VT COVID Update Includes Response To Lawsuit Over End Of Emergency Housing Program
The latest COVID briefing by Vermont administration officials this week provided information for individuals who may not yet be vaccinated. There were also questions about a lawsuit filed in an attempt to maintain a pandemic program to aid the vulnerable.
Vermont has surpassed Governor Phil Scott’s 80 percent vaccination goal and all state COVID pandemic restrictions have been lifted. Officials continue to urge those who have not received the vaccine to get it. During the weekly briefing Tuesday officials listed upcoming pop-up and walk-in clinics. Trends indicate the Northeast experienced the largest drop in new cases and has the lowest number of cases in the country — attributed to high vaccination rates. Governor Scott highlighted a symbolic milestone that occurred Monday in Vermont’s pandemic response.
“The final pieces of our medical surge site at the Champlain Valley Exposition were removed and the space was turned back to the fairgrounds," Scott said. "Fortunately the site didn’t get much use but given what we saw happening in other states it was important for us to be prepared and we were.”
During the pandemic the state housed low-income residents and the homeless in hotels and motels under an expanded General Assistance Emergency Housing Program. That pandemic assistance ends July 1 and those sheltering in the rooms must find new housing. Vermont Legal Aid filed a class action lawsuit Monday to stop the state from changing eligibility or ending the program. Governor Scott says the program actually expanded services.
“We’ve been talking about going back to something that was more realistic I guess after the pandemic, after the State of Emergency ended," the governor said. "So this is no surprise to anyone. And we feel as though we have protections in place. We’ve taken steps to make sure that people are protected that are coming out of the program. It’s expanded tremendously since pre-pandemic and actually are going to have a more expanded eligibility than before. So we feel we’re in a good spot.”
Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith added that the state worked with a number of stakeholders to reach a consensus on how the Emergency Housing program should work post-pandemic.
“There was broad consensus among the work group and the Legislature that we’re not going back to where it was pre-pandemic," Smith said. "We’re actually going to expand eligibility. One of those areas was disability. We gave notice on all of these changes on April 30th of this year to the people in the housing program. About 1,481 individuals will stay in the program as we move forward. So we’ll defend what we’ve done.”
The suit claims a definition of disability is overly restrictive and violates both legislative and due process. Secretary Smith not only disagrees but says Vermont Legal Aid was part of the work group that helped craft the post-pandemic plan.
“Obviously we disagree with Legal Aid’s interpretation of the process," Smith said. "And as I had mentioned before the disability definition has been expanded from the pre-pandemic to the new rules that we put together. And again we put together a working group that had Legal Aid in it, local housing authorities, state leaders, and worked with the Legislature and this work group to pass this compromise. We think we’re on solid ground. You know the bottom line is we’ll see Legal Aid In court.”