Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 11, 2013

Shutdown cuts paycheck for AmeriCorps members

TRAVERSE CITY — Claire Martin worked full-time for the last two weeks, but her latest paycheck was only about $260.

Martin is a member of AmeriCorps Vista, a national service program that aims to fight poverty by matching volunteers with nonprofit groups. Volunteers are supposed to be able to empathize with the poor they’re trying to help, so are paid a small stipend to keep them right around the poverty line.

Part of the deal is that no participants can take on outside work. In return, Vista members are eligible for an award of $5,550 to pay for additional schooling or to pay off student loans.

But the federal government shutdown is creating anxiety among Martin and 13 other VISTAs working at Traverse City nonprofit SEEDS. This pay period, they’re only able to receive 64 percent of their already meager paycheck.

Until Thursday, they believed they wouldn’t be paid at all.

“We’re one of the only government workers right now who are still having to work but aren’t getting paid,” said Martin.

Martin and other Americorp VISTAs at SEEDS help plan and orchestrate programs across northern Michigan that help school children learn about sustainable practices.

Martin is trying to cut back on her expenses and cancelled a trip to visit her family this weekend because she can’t afford the gas money.

One of her co-workers, Paige Galbraith, struggles to pay her rent. She’s trying to move and can’t scrape together enough money for the security deposit.

“It would have been nice if (the government) had some kind of deal where if you weren’t getting paid and were allowed to work they would make it where if you didn’t pay rent on time you wouldn’t be charged late fees,” said Galbraith. “There’s nothing that protects us.”

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