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A joint press release issued by the Vermont Department for Children and Families and Vermont Legal Aid.

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.