Lawmakers Decline to Extend Vermont's Motel Housing Program | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Lawmakers Decline to Extend Vermont's Motel Housing Program


Published May 10, 2023 at 7:27 p.m.

Lawmakers negotiating the budget bill this week - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Lawmakers negotiating the budget bill this week
Lawmakers who slashed funding for a program housing 2,800 people in motels rejected calls on Wednesday to extend it. Budget negotiators instead scraped together an additional $12.5 million to strengthen the safety net of services to help people facing homelessness.

Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the loss of federal pandemic funding was forcing the state to find other ways to address people’s needs.

“Every part of state government and all the programs that we are funding have a responsibility to come together here,” Kitchel said.

The new funding includes $10 million for the Department for Children and Families and $2.5 million for the Housing Opportunity Grant Program, which provides assistance for people facing housing challenges.

Advocates immediately lambasted the decision as certain to doom hundreds of vulnerable people to eviction from the motel rooms they have called home for months and, in some cases, more than a year.

“There is nothing in here that guarantees those people will be sheltered,” said Brenda Siegel, a homeless advocate who was the 2022 Democratic candidate for governor. “This continues to be an abject failure of our state government to prevent a preventable humanitarian crisis.”

Pressure has been mounting on lawmakers to help people facing ouster from their motels beginning on June 1. A second wave of more vulnerable people is expected to be forced out by July 1.

Homeless advocates and service providers note that this will force hundreds of people into the streets at a time when shelters are full, social service networks are overwhelmed and the housing affordability crisis continues.

On Wednesday, 29 lawmakers urged budget negotiators to extend the program at a cost of $32 million. Three members of the House and three from the Senate have been meeting in a conference committee to hammer out competing version of the budget.

The letter said the looming crisis was due to “the willful indifference of a handful of leaders across state government making decisions that will unquestionably harm people.” It asserted that sufficient funding is available to create a “humane transition plan” that would not force vulnerable people into a health care and homeless services system that lacks beds for them.

“This is a moral and political problem, not a money problem,” the lawmakers wrote.
  • Kevin Mccallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Vicki Mindle
The debate followed a meeting in Montpelier on Tuesday of municipal leaders and homeless service providers strategizing how to deal with the influx of homeless people to a system ill-equipped to help them.

Rep. Theresa Wood (D-Waterbury), a member of the budget negotiation team, stressed that housing wasn’t a “complete answer” to the problem of homelessness. Support services to help people with mental health and substance-use challenges are also vital.

“There is not going to be a single silver bullet that solves this problem,” Wood said.

The reality is, continuing a $76 million pandemic-era program “really robs us of the resources” the state needs to invest in more permanent housing solutions, Wood said. She noted that the state has spent $450 million on housing programs since March 2020.

Some Democratic and Progressive House members have threatened not to vote to override an anticipated veto of the budget by Republican Gov. Phil Scott if the program is not extended.

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