Vt. Legal Aid sues to keep homeless hotel program from closing

Published: May. 30, 2023 at 6:10 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Legal Aid on Tuesday filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Vermont in an effort to keep the emergency hotel program from closing.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of people slated to lose their hotel vouchers and is against the Agency of Human Services. It challenges the legality of returning to pre-pandemic rules and also says the state failed to give proper notice to people leaving the hotels.

Legal Aid is seeking an injunction from the court to pause ending the General Assistance Program. “This was the governor’s responsibility failing, that it was the Legisature’s responsibility to allocate funds for this. At this point, we are trying to get the Judicial Branch to do something about this about the way this is being done,” said Legal Aid’s Rebecca Plummer.

AHS officials Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuit citing the ongoing litigation.

Meanwhile, fast-moving political negotiations are underway in Montpelier ahead of the June eviction deadlines. Following the governor’s veto of the state budget Saturday, Democratic leaders are working to rally support for an override and quash an uprising of lawmakers that have threatened to sustain the veto unless more money is added to the budget for emergency housing

Democrats’ budget did not include more funding to extend hotel housing. House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, blames governor scott for the situation and is now calling for a state of emergency. “So that we can fill in those resources that the budget would have covered, especially with staffing,” she said.

Governor Phil Scott has said Vermont can not fund the hotel program on its own and that those who use the program can’t access housing, substance use, employment, and mental health services.

Krowinski needs to flip 10 votes to reach the two-thirds majority to override the governor’s veto. But 17 lawmakers calling themselves the Just Transition Coalition plan to bring a proposal forward during the June veto session that pushes for the continuation of the hotel program.

Reporter Calvin Cutler: Are you prepared to go to the negotiating table and make concessions with lawmakers during the veto session?

House Speaker Jill Krowinski: Calvin, I’m hearing from members from all sides on this budget. We have a group that is talking about the emergency housing transition. We have members that think this budget spends too much money.

The first deadline for hundreds of people to leave hotels is this Thursday. Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln, says members of her coalition are meeting almost daily to find answers. “While we’re creating longer-term solutions, we can help, and I’m confident we can help everyone in the program or needs the program,” she said.

The veto session on June 20 and continuing budget negotiations face a compressed timeframe. Vermont needs to pass a budget by the new fiscal year on July 1st. Matt Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College, says it’s unlikely any lawmaker will risk shutting down the government. “Both sides will engage in some type of budgetary brinksmanship up until the last moment. The risk fo defaulting, I think, outweighs the political benefits any side may get from holding the line,” he said.

Krowinski says she expects to see several more vetoes from the governor by then.

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