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Voucher program and state finances the focus of Vermont governor’s weekly briefing

Vermont Statehouse and Governor Phil Scott
photos by Pat Bradley
Vermont Statehouse and Governor Phil Scott

Vermont Governor Phil Scott began his weekly briefing today expressing his concerns about the legislature’s fiscal moves. But questions focused on eligibility for the hotel-motel voucher program the state is phasing out.

Governor Scott began by addressing one of the major issues on the table in next week’s veto session.

“This year I’m worried the Legislature is setting us up for failure," Scott said. "Whether it’s a $100 million payroll tax, $20 million in unnecessary DMV fee increases, hundreds of millions in additional costs that will come with the Clean Heat Standard, spending $70 million more than I proposed in base spending and more. To be clear I think all Vermonters are taxed too much and the last thing we should be doing is raising them given high inflation and record surpluses. But what concerns me most about the approach the Legislature has taken this year is that those who can least afford it will feel the financial harm the most.”

While the governor opened the briefing discussing fiscal concerns in broad strokes, questions focused on the state’s phase out of a hotel-motel voucher program and eligibility definitions for extended aid under a redesigned program.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson tried to clarify changes as the state restarts the General Assistance Housing Program and integrates individuals currently using the voucher program.

“The General Assistance Housing Program has several different eligibility criteria," said Samuelson. "One of them are for vulnerable populations. When we restart the program, they’re extended by 28 days. But there are other families who are in what are considered catastrophic and they’re eligible for 84 days. Eligibility is determined on a month-by-month basis. During the pandemic we did not use the same eligibility criteria. We are restarting the GA program on July 1st and on July 1 individuals will be determined for eligibility.”

Speaking to WAMC on Wednesday, Senate Pro Tem Phil Baruth, a Democrat, said legislative leaders plan to meet with the governor on Friday regarding legislation, separate from a Progressive caucus proposal, that addresses concerns over the voucher program.

“I think there will be an agreed upon bill, House and Senate. We’re meeting with the governor on Friday on that bill," reported Baruth. "My hope is that he will find a way to come along with us and we can have a unified front on how to protect this last 2,000 folks from being exited from the motel program if there’s not a slot for them elsewhere.”

Governor Scott said he wants to see the leadership’s proposal.

“I have no idea what they’re going to be putting forward," noted Scott. "I also think though that there is room within the budget to work things around to make things work in both our favors. So we’ll see what they have to offer. But I’m ready to at least hear them out.”

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