PROGRESSIVE STATEMENT ON VETO SESSION: GA EMERGENCY HOUSING MOTEL PROGRAM FLAWS AND UNDEMOCRATIC PROCESS
June 26, 2023
On June 20th, the House Progressive caucus voted to sustain the veto on the FY24 state budget. We could not, in good faith, support the undemocratic process that resulted in a compromise reached between Democratic legislative leaders and the Scott administration on the General Assistance (GA) Emergency Housing Motel Program. The GA Motel Program compromise also contained significant flaws, while creating significant burdens for participants in the program. Progressives ultimately voted in support of the compromise because it will support some Vermonters without shelter, but it is not enough. Adequately housing all Vermonters, especially those most in need, should be an obvious priority for a legislature with a Democratic and Progressive supermajority.
We know that the legislature could and should have done much more over the last two years to find a solution to transition all Vermonters from the GA Motel Program to safe and permanent housing. We were clear on the final day of the 2023 legislative session that we would not support the budget unless it protected our most vulnerable Vermonters without shelter. Legislative leadership reached their compromise with the Governor without involving several legislators, including Progressives, who sounded the alarm months ago about this policy crisis. Leadership handed legislators the new proposed legislation only hours prior to the first day of the veto session, leaving us no meaningful opportunity to provide input or amend the agreement. Progressives raised concerns on the floor during the GA Motel Program amendment debate in the House and Senate. House Progressives ultimately decided to sustain the budget veto given the lack of good faith negotiations and reluctantly supported the GA Motel Program amendment. We acknowledge that this final proposal still falls far short of complete harm mitigation or reparation.
A better policy solution was possible. House and Senate Progressives, along with a group of House Democrats, worked tirelessly since May to propose a just transition for every person in the GA Motel Program as well as policy solutions to better support unsheltered people who chose not to be in the program and are currently camping. We were not given sufficient time to offer any other solutions or to challenge the burdens placed on people remaining in the program. Vermonters in the program will now be required to:
conduct individual housing searches in a housing market that has next to no available units,
abide by a new undefined “misconduct” rule,
accept any housing offered even if it pulls them from their current community or school district,
and be required to contribute 30% of their income towards their emergency motel housing.
We also left the veto session having created no safeguards to protect people currently living outside and very little time for people already removed from the program to reapply (must apply by June 30th). For Vermonters who are unable to reapply or choose to not be subject to the burdensome new requirements, camping remains the only option. In the absence of any statewide camping policy, these people are also at risk of harassment from law enforcement. The program eligibility requirements also limit the definition of disability to individuals receiving SSI or SSDI. This excludes many Vermonters living with a disability. All Vermonters deserve better from their state and from this legislature.
The budget includes important policies that our caucus fully supports. These policies will transform our child care system, improve our healthcare system, feed every student in our public school system, and initiate critical investments in our workforce. We appreciate the $1.2 million allocated to the Land Access and Opportunity Board to recommend new opportunities and to increase land and home ownership for historically marginalized or disadvantaged communities. We also appreciate the $60 million to expand emergency shelters, convert motels into housing, provide mobile homes, and build affordable housing. This budget includes $10 million for the Vermont Rental Housing Improvement Program to help bring back online rental units in disrepair. The budget also includes $300,000 for Housing Resource Navigators to work with municipalities, regional and local housing organizations alongside private developers to identify housing opportunities, match communities with funding resources and provide project management support. However, most of these new or renovated units will likely not become available for at least another 1 to 2 years. In the meantime, Vermonters will face a stricter motel program with new burdens placed upon these households in order to maintain eligibility.
The budget also lacks critical funding needed to fully address our housing crisis and prevent more Vermonters from experiencing homelessness. The Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) received no additional funding to help Vermonters avoid eviction for falling behind on rent. We know that this assistance has been critical for Vermont’s renters during and following the pandemic. The legislature also failed to take up policy that would address the negative impact of short term rentals or the unjust ‘no cause’ eviction of tenants. This will undoubtedly contribute to continued housing insecurity of Vermonters.
Progressives will continue to develop policy that treats this housing crisis as a public health emergency in order to find creative solutions. Our proposed solutions will include expanding our social safety net to help people meet their basic needs. We will also be closely monitoring the funding allocated from the state surplus fund in the H.171 proposal in case revenues are not as high as anticipated and cause further changes in this critical program.
Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Chittenden-17 (Burlington), House Progressive Caucus Leader
Rep. Taylor Small, Chittenden- 21 (Winooski), House Progressive Assistant Caucus Leader
Rep. Troy Headrick, Chittenden-15 (Burlington)
Rep. Kate Logan, Chittenden-16 (Burlington)
Rep. Brian Cina, Chittenden-15 (Burlington)
Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky, Chittenden Central