Thousands of Americans who have agreed to live on poverty-level stipends to serve the nation’s poorest are making an even bigger sacrifice. Thanks to the government shutdown, they may have to live on no wages at all for a while.
AmeriCorps VISTA members, who spend a year living in poor areas and serving programs that aim to help people in poverty, have been told to continue working during the shutdown but not to expect to get their stipends until the government re-opens, according to a document posted on the organization’s website. Although they will eventually get paid, the lag in receiving money could present challenges to people already trying to get by on very little money.
Marah Holland, 24, is among those wondering when her next check will come. She receives a stipend of $397 every two weeks, plus food stamps, for her work on public health issues in Oregon state.
Holland, who recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island and is currently living in Beaverton, Ore., knew it would be tough to cover rent, utilities, gas and other costs with a budget of just a couple of hundred dollars a week.
She said she saved up some money in the months leading up to beginning service in April. Now, she figures she’ll have to dip into that, or accept a $500 loan from the state health authority she is working with, to cover rent and other costs. The program doesn’t allow people to take on second jobs, she said.
Holland, who hopes to pursue a master’s in public health after completing the program, said she’s enjoying her year in service and wouldn’t consider leaving the program. But she’s frustrated about not getting paid, especially since members of Congress are receiving their paychecks during the shutdown, now into its second week.
"I guess I'm a tiny bit bitter that Congress is still getting paid when they're not doing their job," she said.
An AmeriCorps spokeswoman did not respond to e-mails from NBCNews.com because of the shutdown. But a document on the organization's website said that although VISTA workers’ living stipends would accrue during the shutdown, they would not be paid until funding is restored. Holland said she received an e-mail giving the same guidance.
The document also said VISTA workers are expected to be available at all times and that requirement is not affected by a funding lapse.
The AmeriCorps VISTA Facebook page was flooded with criticism and confusion about the effect of the shutdown, with some fretting about how they would pay their bills.
Approximately 6,500 VISTA volunteers are scattered throughout the country, according to its website.