Hundreds of Vermonters who’ve been living in motels and hotels for more than a year were going to need new places to live. They can sleep more easily for a while after being granted a two-week reprieve.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Vermont’s General Assistance Emergency Housing Program has offered homeless Vermonters motel and hotel rooms. Stricter requirements for the program were scheduled to take effect on Thursday.
Under those new standards, about 700 Vermonters with disabilities who don’t receive several different types of federal benefits were expected to lose the roof over their heads. However, on Wednesday, a judge in Montpelier gave them two more weeks to verify their disability with the state — and keep their housing.
“It’s hopeful,” Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Mairead O’Reilly said. “And you know, many of our clients just needed a little bit more time to obtain verification that they will be able to get from medical providers.”
Anyone who either can’t get verification in 14 days or is denied help by the state Agency of Human Services for other reasons is eligible for a one-time, $2,500 direct payment. In the wake of the judge’s temporary order, AHS has been notifying all of the affected vulnerable Vermonters in writing.
“There are a whole host of other folks who we think still don’t fit under the new definition of ‘disability’ that the Agency of Human Services has drafted,” O’Reilly said. “That concern remains outstanding.”
On Monday, Vermont Legal Aid sued the state over these eligibility changes. The judge’s order has placed the lawsuit on pause for those same two weeks. O’Reilly said both sides could come to the table during the pause to negotiate a settlement.
“We remain open, always, to discussing the possibility of a mutually-agreed upon outcome for this, and we’re open and hope to schedule some conversations in the coming days,” she noted.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said Tuesday at Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly news conference that everyone in the housing program was notified on April 30 that these changes were coming.
“If you were not in the program, the eligibility requirements came into effect on June 1,” Smith said. “If you were in the program, you were grandfathered in to July 1.”
If you’re in emergency housing and you have a disability, you’ll need to reach out to the Vermont Department of Children and Families either in person at a DCF office or by phone at 1-800-497-6151. Vermont Legal Aid can also guide you through the process if you call them at 1-800-889-2047.