On June 17, 2008, President Bush signed into law H.R. 6081, the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008 (“the HEART Act”), making AmeriCorps more accessible to people with disabilities. To clarify how this Act will affect both current and future AmeriCorps members, some commonly asked questions are answered below:
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal program that provides a monthly cash benefit to low-income individuals who are aged, blind, or who have a disability.
In the past, receiving an AmeriCorps living allowance could jeopardize SSI benefits. The new law directs the Social Security Administration to ignore an individual’s receipt of AmeriCorps benefits for purposes of SSI eligibility. Thus, the HEART Act excludes “any benefit (whether cash or in-kind)” and so covers the living allowance, healthy insurance, child care, and the education award (and related interest payments).
The SSI program rules exclude specific amounts of earned income, unearned income such as tuition scholarship and disaster relief payments, and resources such as a residence or household automobile.
The exclusion of AmeriCorps benefits takes effect for benefits payable after August 16, 2008.
Yes, the exclusion covers benefits beginning on the effective date, regardless of the status of the AmeriCorps member.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a Federal program that provides money to individuals with disabilities based on their having paid into the insurance program. There are separate laws and regulations for SSDI eligibility and the HEART Act moved through Congress too quickly to include SSDI. We hope that Congress will extend the AmeriCorps exclusion to SSDI in the near-future.
In the past only AmeriCorps VISTA members were excluded by law from countable income for SSI purposes. Therefore, the HEART Act doesn’t change anything for VISTA members but rather brings all AmeriCorps members under one treatment of benefits rule for SSI.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is currently working with the Social Security Administration to update guidance and will provide guidance resources on the Corporation’s Accessibility page at http://www.nationalservice.gov/home/site_information/accessibility.asp.