News

September 24, 2021

On behalf of our clients at Vermont Legal Aid, we are relieved to hear that Governor Scott has authorized extending General Assistance (GA) emergency housing for an additional 30 days. 

Vermont is still suffering the effects of COVID-19, and people experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to becoming severely ill, even if they are vaccinated. Depriving them of this critical benefit would have been arbitrary and irrational in light of current conditions, and contrary to the intent of the Legislature.

Housing is health. And although Vermont is making historic investment in affordable housing development, that housing is not available yet, so shelter in motels is all that our vulnerable neighbors experiencing homelessness have for now. We look forward to working with the Administration and other service providers to effectively address the housing and homelessness crisis we face in Vermont.

We thank the advocates, including youth advocates, legislators, and people with lived experience who joined our call for this extension, and in so doing sent a powerful message to Governor Scott about who we are as a statewide community.

Shelter is a basic necessity that no one should go without. And this pandemic continues to teach us that when we avoid evictions and homelessness, our communities are stronger, healthier, safer and more prosperous.

Vermont Legal Aid and our community partners, along with the tireless staff at the Economic Services Department offices, are immediately getting to work to help ensure Vermonters living in the motels access the 30-day extension. Anyone who has trouble extending their stay should call Vermont Legal Aid at 1-800-889-2047.

Visit the VTLawHelp.org website for updates.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 20, 2021

Contact:
For AHS: Geoffrey Pippenger, geoffrey.pippenger@vermont.gov
For VLA: Jessica Radbord, (802) 383-2208, jradbord@vtlegalaid.org
Mairead O’Reilly, 802-383-2225, mcoreilly@vtlegalaid.org

 

SETTLEMENT REACHED IN GENERAL ASSISTANCE EMERGENCY HOUSING CASE

The Agency of Human Services and Vermont Legal Aid are pleased to announce that they have reached a settlement in the General Assistance (GA) emergency housing program lawsuit, Gray-Rand v. Vermont Agency of Human Services, No. 2:21-cv-178 (D. Vt.).  As a result of the settlement, the parties stipulated to dismiss the case, which was granted by the Honorable J. Christina Reiss of the U.S. District Court for Vermont.

Last year, in response to the pandemic, the State significantly expanded eligibility, including the definition of what qualifies as a disability, making more Vermonters eligible to stay temporarily in hotels and motels.Today’s agreement represents mutually agreed upon changes to emergency housing and reinforces the State’s previous commitment to an expanded definition of who is eligible for assistance. 

Per the settlement, eligibility for the GA program for persons with disabilities will be expanded, and a variance process will be formalized for cases where an applicant’s health or welfare would be at risk due to their disability if they were unsheltered.  An easy-to-use form has been designed for people with disabilities to document eligibility. Notices of decision will inform applicants of the new variance process.

Department for Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Sean Brown said: “We are happy to have reached this agreement and believe that it will serve Vermonters well. Today’s agreement will now allow us to continue the critical work of restructuring the way we provide emergency housing to those Vermonters experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. This means we can move forward with development of a plan—in collaboration with communities and stakeholders across the state—to transition to a system that provides more stable shelter and support services like food assistance, rental assistance, and mental health care.”  

Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Jessica Radbord describes the impact of this agreement: “People with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness will now be able to access GA benefits even if they are able to work.  We believe this will protect some truly vulnerable members of our community from suffering negative health consequences as a result of being unsheltered.  We’re also hopeful that the new form and procedures we’ve negotiated will ease access to this critical program. Vermont Legal Aid will continue to advocate for broad access to shelter and due process protections for Vermonters experiencing homelessness.”

Thomas, a participant in the General Assistance program, says: “During the six months that I was homeless before I came into the GA program, I was in and out of the hospital five times due to my disability.  Since I came into the GA program, I haven’t been in the hospital once.  It is saving my life.  I’m glad the rules are changing.  I have a serious disability, but I want to try to get a job, even if it’s just part-time.  The new rules will let me do that and keep a roof over my head.  I’m also hoping that the new form will make it easier for health care providers to help people like me demonstrate our eligibility.”

“Persons experiencing homelessness can call our Department for assistance at 800-479-6151,” said Commissioner Brown. Attorney Radbord encourages anyone experiencing or at risk of homelessness to request legal assistance from Vermont Legal Aid by calling 800-889-2047.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jessica Radbord, (802) 383-2208, jradbord@vtlegalaid.org
Mairead O’Reilly, (802) 383-2225, mcoreilly@vtlegalaid.org

GA MOTEL UPDATE: Court Gives Vermonters with Disabilities Receiving GA Emergency Housing Assistance up to 14 Additional Days to Verify Disabilities

Burlington, Vt., June 30, 2021 — Vermonters with disabilities living in motels who have been told they must leave by July 1 may have an additional 14 days if they call or go to the district office to request more time and declare that they have a disability. Today, the Vermont Superior Court granted a Temporary Order that gives Vermonters with disabilities living in the motels an additional 14 days of continued housing to verify their disability. This order has also been approved by Judge Reiss in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. Vermont Legal Aid and the Agency of Human Services (AHS) filed a stipulated Temporary Order with the Vermont Superior Court, Washington Unit this morning. This temporary order is in effect for the next 15 days, and the case would resume after that time, unless a further agreement is reached.

The Order will provide Vermonters with disabilities, who are otherwise eligible for General Assistance but do not receive SSI, SSDI, VA benefits for Medicaid for the Aged Blind and Disabled, the opportunity to “self-attest” that they have a disability and an additional 14 days to obtain verification from a health care provider, including a therapist, counselor, clinician, nurse or PCP.  If participants are unable to get verification within 14 days or are ultimately denied GA assistance by AHS for other reasons, they are still eligible to collect a $2,500 essential payment.  

Yesterday, AHS, filed a notice with the Vermont Superior Court, Washington Unit that they intended to remove the case to U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont. That notice for removal was filed by the State today with the Federal District Court, depriving the Vermont Superior Court of jurisdiction over this case.

This 15-day interim agreement will protect hundreds of Vermonters with disabilities from losing shelter on July 1. “We are pleased that the State agreed to this order” says Jessica Radbord, lead attorney for the Plaintiff class. “This will provide vulnerable Vermonters an additional two weeks to verify disability status while remaining sheltered.”

Anyone receiving GA emergency housing who believes they have a disability should contact the Department at 1-800-497-6151 or go to their local district office to self-attest their disability and request ongoing assistance.  If the Department later denies assistance, you are eligible to collect the $2,500 essential payment.  Anyone who has problems with that process or has questions about their rights, should contact Vermont Legal Aid, Inc. at 1-800-889-2047.

Stipulated Temporary Order 6/30/2021

Residents — Learn about your rights and what to do

 

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  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   Contact: Jessica Radbord, (802) 383-2208, jradbord@vtlegalaid.org Mairead O’Reilly, (802) 383-2225, mcoreilly@vtlegalaid.org Vermont Legal Aid Files Class Action Lawsuit to Stop Changes to GA Emergency Housing Program Burlington, Vt.— On June 28, 2021, Vermont Legal Aid, Inc. filed a class action lawsuit in the Vermont Superior Court, Washington Unit, Civil Division, to stop the Agency of Human Services from terminating General Assistance Emergency Housing Program benefits for hundreds of Vermonters with disabilities. General Assistance (GA) has provided shelter in motels and hotels across Vermont for low-income residents experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.   AHS implemented changes to the GA program in violation of Vermont law and without sufficient regard for the core principles of due process. The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction from the Court to prevent the changes to program rules from taking effect and to bar the Department from terminating benefits for residents of the motels on July 1. The lawsuit has been filed as a class action on behalf of those eligible for the program or who would be eligible for the program but for the changes to the eligibility criteria. The lawsuit targets the restrictive definition of what qualifies as a “disability” under the new eligibility criteria.   “Vermonters with disabilities who are homeless deserve to be treated fairly, subject to rules that are legally valid, and accorded appropriate procedural protections” explains Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Jessica Radbord.”   Even in an emergency, administrative rules must be promulgated according to proper procedure to be given the force and effect of law. The state’s definition of disability is overly restrictive, especially given the Governor’s continued recognition of our need for non-congregate shelter, and that Vermont will likely continue to be reimbursed for the cost of the GA program at a 100% cost-share by the Federal Government. GA motel residents told VLA that the Department told them they were ineligible for the program before they had even had a chance to reapply. Those individuals never received notice of the basis for the denial, or how to appeal. “These are fundamental violations of due process,” says Attorney Radbord.   Staff Attorney Mairead O’Reilly said the impact the challenged rules will have on Vermonters will be serious: “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. 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. We hope this lawsuit will force compliance with the law and provide our most vulnerable neighbors with fairer GA emergency housing rules.”
Chittenden County Public Defender’s Office, Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office & Vermont Legal Aid to Host Telephone-Based Warrant Clinic

Do you think you may have an arrest warrant for a Chittenden County court case? 

The Chittenden County Public Defender’s Office will partner with the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office and Vermont Legal Aid to host a warrant clinic from now until June 25, 2021, to help Vermonters clear up arrest warrants and re-connect them with criminal court dates.  

During the pandemic, court closures, sickness, changes in court dates and other hardships related to COVID-19 created confusion over court dates. As a result, arrest warrants have been issued. When defendants have an outstanding arrest warrant, interactions with law enforcement, an arrest, and a night in jail could be the end result. Walking into the courthouse to check on an arrest warrant and clear it up has been more complicated during pandemic-related court closures.  

The free clinic will focus on helping people clear up outstanding warrants and get a new court date. It will be open to the public by telephone appointment through June 25. If you have questions about your arrest warrant status or you want to sign up for the clinic, contact Grace at Vermont Legal Aid at 802-503-0005 ext. 255. 

Yesterday’s verdict did not bring justice for all the Black and Brown lives that have been lost due to police violence and systemic racism. However, it is cause for hope that, thanks to the courage of the Floyd family, the fortitude of the jurors, the skill and dedication of the team of attorneys assembled by Attorney General Ellison, and the persistence of all those who have raised their voices in protest in the streets, we may have taken a first step toward greater accountability in our policing practices, and that we can through continued efforts, in the words of Amanda Gorman, “rebuild, reconcile and recover.” With this hope in mind, we at Vermont Legal Aid re-dedicate ourselves today to calling out racism when we see it — in our country, in our state, and in our own organization — and to dismantling white supremacy in Vermont.

In posting the statement from the VT APIDA for Black Lives Group, Vermont Legal Aid humbly acknowledges that we are among those who are called out and called upon to act by it. We accept that we have been too quiet and too slow to act and vow to change. We see you; we hear you; you are vital members of our communities, and we will not ignore what has been happening.

We denounce the attacks, hate crimes, and murders against the Asian American community. As members of a law firm, we acknowledge with some shame the hesitancy of lawyers and members of the legal community around the country to call the Atlanta killings a hate crime. We vow to call out racism when we see it: in our country, in our state, and in our own organization.

We publicly announce our support for H.397, H. 245, H.428, H. 320, H.329, and H.210 and commit ourselves and our organization to dismantling white supremacy in Vermont.

Letter from members of the VT APIDA for Black Lives Group Dear Governor Scott, Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, Congressman Welch, Mayors, Friends, Colleagues:   Members of our Asian American community are dying. In Atlanta, a white man walked into three spas and murdered eight people. The victims were ambitious business owners, dedicated and hard-working mothers, newlyweds and best friends remembered for being shy and unfailingly loving. Their names are: Hyun Jung Grant Soon C.Park Suncha Kim Daoyou Feng Yong A. Yue Delaina Ashley Yaun Paul Andre Michels Xiaojie Tan. Since the beginning of this global pandemic that has ravaged our nation and disproportionately targeted the BIPOC community, fear has turned into hostility, hate, violence, and murder. The killing of these eight people come on the heels of the stabbing of an Asian family in Texas that included their two and six-year-old: the consecutive murders of three elderly Asian American men, 75, 84, and 91 years old, in broad daylight. This also includes the recent unprovoked assault on 75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie who beat her attacker in the streets in self-defense but, despite successfully defending herself, is so traumatized by the randomness of the assault she is now afraid to leave her home. We have had to call our siblings, parents and grandparents and tell them to stay home, stay quiet, stay alive.   Did you know that since the pandemic, there have been 3,795 bias incidents reported in the U.S., representing hundred-fold rises in violent incidents against Asian Americans? In the last twenty years, Asians have been the fastest growing targets of hate crimes. Discriminatory acts are also happening here in Vermont. We are being accosted in local stores, hearing racial epithets hurled at our children at sporting events, being targeted in the lobbies and private offices of hospitals and clinics, being told to go back to our country. It is incumbent upon you to protect us.   There is an illusion that as Asian Americans, we do not experience discrimination, that we have never lived in poverty or been the subject of violence or police profiling. We are a community made up of different cultures, languages, countries of origin, and different generations of Americans, but to many of you, we are the same: “Chinese,” “foreigner,” “un-American,” “New[1]American,” “Non-English speaking.” Our names immediately oust us in our applications for housing and employment. In Vermont, Asian American women make only 67 cents on the dollar earned by white men, amounting to a lifetime loss of more than $700,000. That loss has had an impact on our ability to invest, purchase land, choose the right schools for our children and plan for their futures. Most of these disparities go largely ignored. We are invisible although we are here. We have been here.   Our present-day experiences are not different from the historical experiences of our ancestors in this country. It has just taken on a different form. Then, it was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; today, it is the mass deportation of South East Asians, many of whom arrived here lawfully as refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, we were denied the right to purchase land, to citizenship, to testify in court; today, we are denied admissions into schools, leadership positions and equal pay. Then, irrational fear and racism from WWII justified Japanese Internment Camps; today, irrational fear and racism from COVID-19 justify violence against our community. Then, white Southerners replaced slave labor with Chinese laborers, pitting the Black and Asian communities against one another; today, our communities fight for “scarce” resources and “limited” positions that are actually limitless for the majority. Again, we see members of our communities committing atrocities against one another.   In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, we strategically gathered to work towards ending this division and fight for our shared liberation. To this end, we created an affinity group called APIDA for Black Lives. We meet monthly to plan events and educate ourselves. This week, our conversation turned inwards. It was reflective and pained by silence: moments of silence for the deceased, the silence of our political leaders, friends and colleagues, the silence created when there is an absence of action after a promise or tweet. We breathed in that undisturbed air and let it quiet our brown and golden bodies temporarily. But that silence has since turned into anger.   If we are ever going to be free, we must dismantle white supremacy and all of the false narratives that come with it: that racism is a binary issue; that the existing laws that prohibit discrimination are adequate to address historical trauma and hundreds of years of discriminatory governmental actions; that discipline, policing and curriculum in our schools are objectively applied and delivered; and that white neutrality exists. Perhaps this last narrative by which the white person believes the absence of personal experience qualifies them to operate from the center of the line, is most dangerous because they are in fact, operating from the end. It is much easier for a BIPOC person to draw from personal experience and also easier for other BIPOC around them to call them in or out if those experiences are clouding their judgment. For the white person, the lack of experience with racial discrimination makes them unaware and unaccountable to themselves and to others. They must work that much harder to unlearn, to overcome, and ultimately to exercise judgment without regards to race and color. Yet “white-as-neutral” permeates every structure and system.   This might explain why the working interpretation of Atlanta police was that race was not the motive in the murder of eight people, most of whom were Asian and were working in spas that were owned and/or frequented by Asians. Their only basis for that contention is that the white man they arrested, completely unscathed, said he was not a racist. The benefit of the doubt and credibility we bestow on the white suspect and the ease by which we erase the identifies of the victims and ignore the larger context of these crimes is alarming.   While we are speaking up for Asian Americans now, we also stand with other communities of color. Until the playing field is level for all, humanity is held back from its full potential.   We call upon you, Governor Scott, Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, Congressman Welch, Mayors, our friends, and colleagues to not ignore what has been happening and to take the following actions:   1. Publicly denounce the attacks, hate crimes and murders against the Asian American community and promise that similar attacks here in Vermont will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. 2. When the victim of crime is a person of color, assume from the start that it is a hate crime until a full and through investigation proves otherwise. Ensure that every investigation at the law enforcement and prosecutorial level is reviewed and guided by a person of color. 3. Immediately issue an Executive Order that calls upon every Agency, Department, University, Employer to study and address equitable representation and equal pay on their boards, commissions, and positions of leadership.  4. Publicly support the following bills:

a. H.387, an act relating to establishing the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations for the Institution of Chattel Slavery.

b. H.245, an act relating to increasing the membership of and providing funding to the Vermont Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group.     

c. H.428, an act relating to hate-motivated crimes and misconduct.

d. H.320, an act relating to prohibiting agreements that prevent an employee from working for the employer following a settlement of a discrimination claim.

e. H.329, an act amending the prohibitions against discrimination

f. H.210, an act relating to addressing disparities and promoting equity in the health care system.

  In the fight towards shared liberation, we must remain steadfast even when we are tired, especially when we are tired. Perhaps it is then that we are drawing close.   Signed, Members of the VT APIDA for Black Lives Group

Vermont Legal Aid is advocating for an increase in Reach Up cash assistance to low-income Vermont families. Reach Up’s statutory purpose is to “improve the wellbeing of children by providing for their immediate basic needs,” but the program fails to achieve its purpose. Cash grants are so low — as attorney Jessica Radbord and her client Sandra Cross demonstrate in this budget exercise — that Vermont kids on the program are constantly at risk of hunger, homelessness and deprivation. Contact your legislator today to let them know that you support investing in Vermont kids by investing in Reach Up.

Watch the five-minute video on YouTube.

Researchers from Dartmouth College’s Center for Global Health Equity have documented the critical role of housing policy in Vermont’s COVID-19 response as part of its ongoing research on COVID-19 and rural health equity in northern New England.

The researchers from Dartmouth and attorneys at Vermont Legal Aid collaborated to create a legislative brief. It translates research findings on the impact of housing on health into actionable policy recommendations for Vermont’s leadership.

The brief summarizes early research findings in Vermont, reviews the academic literature on housing and health, and describes the opportunity to use housing interventions to address other population health challenges in the state, including the opioid epidemic.

Download “Housing is Health: Building on Vermont’s Pandemic Success to Advance Health Equity.”

 

Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont are posting updates on VTLawHelp.org in regards to the coronavirus crisis. See the updated information here: COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters. Some translations are also available.

Vermont Legal Aid and the Center for Medicare Advocacy are pleased to announce the settlement of McKee v. Azar, a case that was brought in federal court to ensure proper coverage of home health care services for a Medicare beneficiary with multiple chronic conditions.

Ms. Mckee, a Vermont resident, required skilled nursing visits to assess and treat her serious medical conditions. Medicare denied coverage, concluding that her condition was “stable” and therefore did not require skilled care. This was erroneous under the standard clarified in the Jimmo v. Sebelius settlement. In her lawsuit, Ms. McKee challenged the notion that her supposedly “stable” condition meant that the care she received was not skilled. She argued that she was eligible for home health coverage based on skilled observation and assessment as well as patient education services. Ms. McKee was at risk for complications, and the knowledge and judgment of skilled nurses were key to identifying when she needed additional or modified care. In addition, Ms. McKee challenged Medicare’s failure to afford appropriate weight to the opinion of her treating physician about her need for skilled care.

Under the terms of a settlement agreement filed on July 21, 2020, Medicare agreed to pay Ms. McKee’s home health claim in full.

Advocates should continue to be alert for inappropriate denials of coverage based on lack of improvement or on “stability” – particularly for individuals with chronic conditions. Jimmo requires Medicare coverage determinations to be based on individuals’ need for skilled care, not on their potential for improvement or on their stability. Skilled nursing, or physical, occupational, or speech therapy may be required to maintain a person’s condition or to prevent or slow deterioration. For more information about Jimmo and the “Improvement Standard,” see the Center for Medicare Advocacy and CMS websites.

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