MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — Gov. Phil Scott has agreed to a 30-day extension of the state’s emergency housing benefit, which was set to force more than 500 households out of the motel voucher program this week.
Housing advocates had asked the Scott Administration to extend the benefit until the end of the year for homeless seniors, families with children, those with disabilities, those who are pregnant, and other vulnerable people.
Scott wouldn’t go that far, but said the 30-day pause will let him and his staff a chance to find other solutions before winter sets in—ideally, permanent housing for those who need it. “This can’t go on in perpetuity. So what happens if we go until January 1 and this ends at the end of the year, what then? We’re still going to be faced with the same situation,” he said. “We need to get on the same page. We need to agree upon the goal and a path forward.”
The benefit was set to expire Thursday. This summer, the state had extended the hotel voucher program 84 days for some, and gave $2,500 checks to those no longer eligible. The state is investing $120 million to create more permanent and shared-housing arrangements while also encouraging shelters to expand, officials have said.
Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint applauded the extension. She said the COVID-19 delta variant wasn’t the threat it is today when Scott extended the motel voucher program for 89 days in June. She said the administration and stakeholders “need to back to square one and explore all avenues to keep people safely housed as we head into the colder weather.”
The ultimate solution is more affordable, safe, and accessible housing, but right now, that’s not available, said Kara Casey of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “For survivors of domestic and sexual violence and many others, this just didn’t mean a roof but for safety,” she said. “In our current climate with a pandemic still very much present and the affordable housing crisis, 84 days has proven to not be enough to be able to afford and to secure affordable housing.”
Another Way, a community drop-in center in Montpelier, is handing out camping gear, meals, and hand warmers, said executive director Ken Russell.
While the motel program is imperfect, “it at least gets people out of the cold,” Russell said. “There’s not a strong enough system in place to take care of these folks,” he said. “Any one of these folks indoors does better.”