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Local AmeriCorps workers trying to cope with shutdown

Former VISTA leader Andrew Palmer from left current VISTA leader Samah Rivzi AnnHarris Americorps VISTA Illinois Campus Contact member working

Former VISTA leader Andrew Palmer, from left, current VISTA leader Samah Rivzi, and Anna Harris, Americorps VISTA Illinois Campus Contact member working in training and development. | Photo provided

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Updated: November 6, 2013 6:14AM

Federal AmeriCorps VISTA service worker Anna Harris said Friday she is using the little bit of savings she has to get by while her paycheck is delayed by the government shutdown.

AmeriCorps VISTA workers must continue to report for duty at all times and cannot take a second job. They make $11,000 to $13,000 for their promised one year of service, depending on their level of responsibility.

They work primarily at college campuses for poverty wages and help set up community services in poverty-stricken areas. Since the program randomly assigns workers how they get paid — some from federal money and others from stipends that colleges and universities pay to be in the program — some VISTA workers are being paid.

“The longer (the budget stalemate) were to go on, I would get increasingly nervous,” said Harris, of Evanston, who helps train and direct 20 other AmeriCorps VISTA workers statewide out of the Illinois headquarters at DePaul University’s downtown campus. “At the same time, we knew our VISTA service year would be full of challenges …, and unfortunately, this is one of those bumps in the road.”

The workers get paid every two weeks, and their next paycheck was to have been paid this coming Friday, Oct. 11. The government shutdown will delay processing for at least a few days.

Another worker from Indiana who asked not to be named had a harsher assessment.

“For some, this is a question of whether they need to consider leaving (AmeriCorps VISTA) so they can sustain themselves in the short term,” the worker said.

At stake is a reward. The workers choose at the end of their one-year service either a $1,500 cash stipend or a $5,500 outlay to help pay down their college debts or to help pay for further education such as a master’s degree.

Tess Werner, a Mount Prospect native who works in VISTA outreach at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is getting paid, but she said she feels badly for her colleagues who must wait.

Some are getting help from the agencies they serve. The Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva is paying its eight AmeriCorps VISTA workers while the budget standoff continues.

“The VISTA workers are a critical part of our mission,” said Donna Lake, the food bank’s spokeswoman. More than 60,000 people each week rely on food from 800 of the food bank’s sites, including food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and senior citizen programs.


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