Vt. lawmakers face emergency housing budget deadlines

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 5:46 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The clock is ticking on several key federally-funded programs supporting Vermonters facing homelessness. It comes as Vermont lawmakers consider a $300 million mid-year spending plan that puts emergency housing center stage.

As another round of winter storms descends on the Green Mountain State this week, advocates fighting homelessness Thursday said they want lawmakers and the governor to understand the reality of sleeping outdoors. They placed mannequins on the Statehouse steps representing the hundreds of homeless Vermonters. It was a chance for Colby Lynch and others facing housing insecurity to have their voices heard.

‘I just wanted to come here today to share my story and dispel some of the preconceived notions about how people become homeless,” Lynch said.

A bill introduced this session would study the feasibility of setting up public restrooms near the Statehouse. It was spearheaded by Rep. Conor Casey, D-Montpelier, a former city council member new to the Statehouse. “This is a shared responsibility. The state has an obligation to put some resources into this as well,” he said.

The state over the past two years has put millions of federal dollars into keeping people housed during the pandemic and has earmarked hundreds of millions more for permanent housing. But it will take time for it all to be built and there are questions about how to keep people housed in the meantime.

“It’ll go back to being a fiduciary choice rather than a moral choice and that’s a hard thing to work with,” said Rep Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury.

Lawmakers are considering a $300 million mid-year adjustment to the state budget paid for with federal pandemic funding that won’t be available next year. It comes as a slew of organizations is requesting more funding for issues including health care, broadband, and housing. Homeless advocates want more money for transitional housing and emergency rental assistance, but right now that’s not in the mix.

State budget writers like Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester, are wary of expenses that will require ongoing investments. “We have to be careful that we don’t carry these programs into the future where we have to fund them with General Fund dollars because, at that point, I believe it will be unsustainable,” Brennan said.

The Legislature -- and Vermonters -- on Friday will get a better sense of how housing and homelessness fit into the administration’s priorities when Governor Phil Scott delivers his annual budget address before the General Assembly.

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