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MONTPELIER — The Bennington and Windham county delegations to the statehouse on Tuesday called on the state to extend eligibility for its general assistance hotel voucher program, hours before Gov. Phil Scott announced a 30-day pause in plans to enforce new requirements this week.

Those lawmakers, writing to Department of Children and Families Commissioner Sean Brown, joined advocates for the homeless in calling on the administration to reconsider the 84-day limit, which had been agreed to in July.

The Bennington delegation letter noted that they were echoing the requests of homeless Vermonters, the organizations that serve them and concerned citizens.

“Like them, we are deeply worried about the impacts for those currently housed in motels, and for our community, when the program is scaled back,” the Bennington delegation said. “The highly contagious delta virus raises the stakes for transmission in a way we could not have foreseen last spring.”

Both delegations noted that Federal Emergency Management Assistance funding is available for the program through Nov. 30.

“Since there is FEMA funding available to pay for this program, we urge you to reconsider this decision in the interests of public health, not to mention the many other challenges facing persons who will find themselves left out in the cold,” the Windham delegation said.

Scott announced the pause during his weekly news conference Tuesday. He said advocates came to the initial agreement with Vermont Legal Aid, DCF and the Legislature to start terminating benefits starting Thursday.

“This was the date that was agreed upon but having heard some of the people who are concerned about this date, I brought the team together this morning and said we should have a 30-day pause to reflect on getting everyone back on the same page,” he said. “It will give us an opportunity to re-engage and make sure we are doing this for the right reason.”

Scott said the pause will not affect program participants who want to take advantage of a financial incentive offered to those who find permanent housing.

Creative solutions will be needed to find units for participants in the program whose benefits are ending, Scott said.

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“But we feel we can accomplish this,” he said. “We just want to make sure we take this pause so we agree on the path forward and get more permanent housing up as well.”

In July, the state extended the hotel voucher program 84 days for families with children, the disabled, pregnant women and other vulnerable people, and gave $2,500 checks to those no longer eligible.

About 543 of the 881 households in motel rooms will reach their 84-day limit on Wednesday, advocates said at a Montpelier press conference.

Another letter to Scott and Brown calling for a pause came from former candidate for Lt. Gov. Brenda Siegel of Newfane, along with current legislators Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, Rep. John Killacky, Rep. Mari Cordes and housing advocate Jubilee McGill.

“This will keep people safely and consistently housed while also giving the administration time to build more permanent solutions, like temporary housing, transitional housing and most importantly permanent housing with easy access to support services. We urge the governor to recognize that folks deserve housing all year, not just to prevent them from freezing to death,” the letter said. “For many, the time they have had in [general assistance] motels was the first time they had the stability to sign up for insurance, consistently file paperwork and receive mail, and access treatment and medical care.”

House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint issued statements supporting the decision.

“When a compromise plan was put in place months ago, the stakeholders at the table didn’t know we’d be in the midst of an intense surge in COVID-19 cases,” Balint said. “They didn’t know that the ongoing health crisis would impact our region’s housing to such an extent that we’d have virtually no housing available in many communities. It is not enough to offer extra money to these homeless Vermonters to find permanent housing if there is no housing available.”

Krowinski said it’s “more critical than ever to think outside the box” and find creative solutions.

“I firmly believe that it is important that we continue to monitor the situation as we approach the extension deadline, and further extend the deadline if we believe we need more time,” Krowinski said. “We know that we have the funds to support this population, and it is imperative that we remain nimble and innovative in the ways we transition our most vulnerable Vermonters to permanent housing with support services.”

Reformer reporter Chris Mays and The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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