VLA Files Class Action Lawsuit to Stop Changes to GA Emergency Housing Program
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.
# # #
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.”