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News Roundup: Vermont Legal Aid Sues State Over Changes To Motel Housing Program

An orange background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the "R" of roundup
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about a lawsuit against the state for changing a motel housing program, the heat wave and more for Tuesday, June 29.

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As Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended and coronavirus restrictions lifted statewide, we will no longer be reporting daily case numbers at the top of this newsletter. Click here for the latest on new cases, and find the latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Vermont Legal Aid sues state over changes to motel housing program

Vermont Legal Aid is suing the Agency of Human Services to stop changes to a program that has housed hundreds of people in motels during the pandemic.

The new rules would lead to many people getting kicked out of the motels.

About 700 people experiencing homelessness could lose their motel rooms when the more restrictive rules go into effect on Thursday.

The class-action lawsuit, filed Monday, alleges that the agency made those changes without following the proper process.

Mairead O’Reilly, an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, says they're seeking a court order to stop the rule change.

“We're trying to make sure that the most vulnerable Vermonters, people with disabilities who may not be connected with medical providers and who may be unable to get verification that they cannot work, we're trying to make sure that they're not immediately forced out onto the streets,” O’Reilly said.

AHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Montpelier considering new policies for camping on public land

Montpelier's city government is considering new policies around camping on public land for those facing homelessness.

VTDigger reports the policies would decriminalize camping in city-owned public areas, and would send an outreach specialist to new encampments to provide services to people experiencing homelessness.

The change comes as motel vouchers that provided emergency housing for many Vermonters during the pandemic are set to expire.

A draft of the new policies, developed with the city's homelessness task force, will go before the Montpelier City Council late next month.

- Matthew Smith

2. Food assistance program to wind down this summer

When Gov. Phil Scott lifted Vermont’s COVID-19 restrictions earlier this month, it wasn’t clear what would happen to a popular food assistance program called Everyone Eats.

The initiative pays restaurants to provide meals available at food pantries, schools, churches and other distribution sites across the state.

This week, officials confirmed the program will receive partial funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through September, as many community meal sites resume regular service.

“We’re so glad to be buying a little more time,” said Lauren Griswold, a local coordinator with the nonprofit Vital Communities in White River Junction. “The strategy is to wean off of this assistance instead of just sending folks off the cliff.”

As part of the program, schools provided hundreds of meals each week in small communities like Bradford and Tunbridge. Kids would come home, “with a large brown grocery bag solid with meals,”Griswold said. “It speaks to the hidden need out there.”

The program has provided more than 40,000 meals each week across the state. It will scale down to about half that volume by September, according to Jean Hamilton, the statewide coordinator for the program with Southeastern Vermont Community Action.

Hunger relief advocates anticipate increased food insecurity in some communities as schools close for summer vacation, fewer Vermonters qualify for emergency motel vouchers, and unemployment benefits end.

“Hunger and food insecurity in Vermont before COVID was an emergency,” Hamilton said.

If you are in need of food assistance, you might be eligible for help paying for monthly grocery bills. Text VFBSNAP to 85511 to see if you can sign up for 3SquaresVT (Vermont’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or VTWIC to 85511 to learn more about assistance if you’re pregnant, a caregiver, or a parent with a child under five.

- Lexi Krupp

3. Heat advisories in place for central, southern Vermont

New England is starting off the week with heat advisories as the hottest weather of the year envelops the region. While the Pacific Northwest is dealing with record-setting heat, the Northeast is also dealing with temperatures in the mid-90s.

The temperature hit 95 degrees Monday in Portland, Maine. And record temperatures were set in Montpelier, Burlington, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Boston tied its record at 97 degrees.

Some New England electric utilities are asking customers to cut back on consumption Tuesday and Wednesday to ensure there is enough power to satisfy demand during the hot weather.

The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories for central and southern Vermont today starting at noon.

- Associated Press

4. Burlington City Council passes $87.5 million budget

Burlington's city council unanimously approved an $87.5 million budget on Monday.

The spending plan restores all city services to pre-pandemic levels, and puts money towards several new initiatives, including expanding the city's Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.

There's also funds for new electric vehicle charging stations, improving sidewalks and bike paths, and paying all city employees a livable wage.

- Liam Elder-Connors

5. Peter Welch disagrees two different infrastructure bills need to pass together

Congressman Peter Welch says he disagrees with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's strategy to link the future of two different infrastructure bills to each other.

One bill includes roughly $1 trillion for roads and bridges, and appears to have strong bipartisan support.

But a second bill allocates funds for climate change initiatives, child care and elder care, and it's being opposed by many Republicans.

Speaker Pelosi has warned that one cannot pass without the other, but Welch disagrees with this approach.

"That's absolutely not my opinion,” Welch said. “I think if we can do good, particularly if we can do it on a bipartisan basis, we can take lead out of the drinking water of kids across the country, we can get roadbed in the heart of the Northeast Kingdom, we can revive our roads and bridges and get public transit. I want to get that done."

Congress is expected to consider this issue after its summer recess.

- Bob Kinzel

6. State reports four more COVID cases

There were just four new cases of COVID-19 reported in Vermont Tuesday.

Six people are in the hospital due to the virus, but none of them are in intensive care.

Health officials now report 81.9% of eligible Vermonters have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

The number of Vermonters who died from COVID remains at 256. The state hasn't recorded any new virus-linked deaths since June 2.

- Matthew Smith

Vermont information centers reopen to travelers

All 16 Vermont Information Centers have reopened to travelers after being closed at the start of the pandemic.

The centers have restrooms, brochures about businesses and attractions, and vending machines for travelers in most facilities.

The state Department of Buildings and General Services announced Monday that coffee service is also expected to resume in the coming weeks.

Centers in Bennington, Fair Haven, Guilford, Hartford, Sharon, Waterford, and Williston are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Locations in Bradford, Derby, Georgia, Lyndonville and Randolph open at 10 each morning and close at 6 p.m.

- Associated Press

VLS will require COVID-19 vaccination

Students, staff and faculty at Vermont Law School will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Valley News reports the law school's interim president, Beth McCormack, announced inoculations will be required by Aug. 23.

The South Royalton school will allow medical or religious exemptions to the policy.

UVM, Middlebury College, Dartmouth, and state colleges like NVU and Vermont Technical College, are among the many schools requiring COVID vaccinations ahead of the fall term, or once the vaccines are authorized for non-emergency use.

- Matthew Smith

This post was compiled and edited by Elodie Reed.

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