Monday, January 7, 2008

Living on the living stipend...

Everything I do is classified as volunteering. Because of this I do not receive a working wage. However, the CNCS, and the US government, realizes that they can't expect a person to volunteer for a year while being unable to hold any other position without garnering some sort of income. Enter the living stipend.

The VISTA handbook states that CNCS determines the living allowance rate, which varies according to the local cost of living. Furthermore, it says that the rate is based on the poverty level for a single individual in the area. Originally, I always thought that I was to receive 105-110% of the poverty line for my area. That seems to be in accordance with the latter statement, though not so clearly with the former. The cost of living is related to the poverty line but, recently, after doing some reading at the US Health and Human Services site, it doesn't make total sense to me. HHS says that CNCS only uses the poverty line for "foster grandparent" and "senior companion" programs. What? Where the hell is the rest of VISTA? Furthermore, America uses an absolute measure of poverty for the whole nation and not just sections of the country (it's because of this that the average person under the poverty line can own his/her home which has 3 bedrooms and 1 and a half bath). So even if CNCS uses it, a number, which is updated each year, based on a study in the 60s that states households spend 1/3 of the household income on food, it wouldn't appear to be relative to my local cost of living.

However, maybe that is just the case and I am hoping ever so much that is, otherwise it doesn't really make any sense. If CNCS doesn't use the national poverty line for VISTA, only for what I assume is SeniorCorps, but does use the local number derived utilizing the local cost of living then this situation disappears. So I'm hoping for that.

Anyways, I receive $412.83 biweekly deposited directly into my checking account. Direct deposit is apparently an absolute must in AmeriCorps, which I actually love since direct deposit keeps that loose cash out of my pocket and I don't have to do anything for it to end up in my account. Since there are generally 4 weeks in each month that means I make $825.66 a month. Oof! Time to start rattling off those expenses. I pay $400 a month for my rent and $100 for utilities. I rent the upstairs of the house in which my dad lives. Technically, I am living at home. But I pay my way. Now I've only got 325.66 left. Doesn't seem like a lot given how I have to pay my car insurance which was $72, but I was recently in an accident and that's for another post, and now may be around $108 since I will have more than just liability on it. $217.66 is all I'm making a month now but there are still more expenses. My cell phone bill, which is actually quite recent since I had been on my family's plan for the past two years, will be a little under $50 (because I get a discount with Verizon for working at a school district). So now what am I left with, just over $167.66 and I can still think of some other expenses. Gas is a pretty big deal these days and could easily sink my ship if PlusTime NH didn't kick so much ass and give me $75 in gas cards each month - which is clearly awesome. So I don't have to spend any money there.

What about food? Food must totally be kicking me into the red zone, monetarily speaking. Nope. As a VISTA with less than 2,000 in the bank (combined checking and savings) I am more than eligible for government foodstamps. And to apply for them, in NH, at least, is incredibly easy. step 1 - find your local Department of Health and Human Services
step 2 - go there and fill out the generic form to apply for benefits and give it to a DHHS worker
step 3 - go to your interview with bank statements, a couple paycheck stubs/VISTA letter/Sponsor letter detailing pay rate, forms stating residency and how much you pay for rent, and a form of identification
step 4 - get foodstamps - which now come in the form of a debit card (EBT).
alternately, I think some states allow you to apply online.

So now I'm left with just over $167.66 for the month. I can pay a little bit on my non-deferred student loans, since not all loans are able to be deferred, to keep those down and I can still go the movies or go have a couple drinks with my friends. However, I clearly don't have the cash for spontaneous trips or ritzy indulgences though I am still capable of having a good time. I just have to weigh what I want to do with how much I have to pay for it and how many other things I won't be able to do because of it. Prime example - yesterday I went snowboarding. Lift ticket cost me like $40 and I had to get a wax/grind for my board since I hadn't used it in at least a year. Bam! There goes $70. But, I hadn't really been outside in the snow and the mountains in a while and the exercise and fresh air was fantastic for me - even though all my muscle groups are oh so sore right now. It's all about budgeting.

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