MONTPELIER – Vermont Legal Aid has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent the state from scaling back its emergency homeless housing program on July 1.
The General Assistance Emergency Housing Program has provided shelter in motels and hotels across the state for the hundreds of Vermonters since the beginning of the pandemic.
Those with disabilities will be allowed to stay until mid-September, but the lawsuit filed by Vermont Legal Aid claims the state’s definition of what qualifies as a disability is too restrictive.
“On July 1, hundreds of Vermonters with disabilities will be ousted from their motel shelter to live in vans, barns, campsites, and our city streets,” said Staff Attorney Mairead O’Reilly. “Our clients are anxious and fearful about what comes next, and our local communities are scrambling to develop the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of this population. There is a more responsible, and lawful, way for the state to transition from the COVID-era GA emergency housing program.”
At his Tuesday press briefing, Governor Phil Scott said his administration worked carefully to ensure those in the program who will no longer be living in the hotels and motels will be able to transition safely.
“We feel as though we have protections in place, we have taken steps to ensure that people are protected that are coming out of the program,” Governor Scott said. “It has expanded tremendously since pre-pandemic.”
Scott’s administration had been expecting the lawsuit, and officials maintain the end of the COVID-19 emergency housing program was deliberated carefully, with advocated at the table.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith defended the new criteria that determines who can remain in the emergency housing, saying it’s been expanded since the program’s pre-pandemic days, including to those with disabilities.
“It mostly associated with ‘were you receiving social security disability, were you receiving Veteran’s department disability or Department of Defense disability?” Smith said. “We expanded that criteria to say if you have a doctor’s note that says you’re disabled, we’ll take that. We’ll take appeals as well.”
Meanwhile, as the lawsuit plays out, Governor Scott was also asked about concerns from employers that people aren’t returning back to work. A weekly Federal unemployment stipend of 300 dollars will continue until September 6, and Scott was asked if that’s part of the issue.
“I think there is a certain segment of the population that do the math and feel as though they can stay home, collect unemployment,” Scott said. “If Congress decides to end the $300 stipend, I would probably not accept. I think it’s gone on long enough.”
State officials also detailed Vermont’s vaccination efforts, which are still going strong with walk-in clinics scheduled throughout the week and into the holiday weekend. Secretary Smith also said the state will soon launch over a dozen regional ‘COVID resource centers’ that will handle both testing and vaccinations under one roof.
For a full list of vaccination opportunities, visit the Vermont Department of Health website.