COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters

Graphic that says "Coronavirus Legal and Benefits Updates"

Updated 6/30/2022 12:30 p.m. 

The outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus has created changes in the way Vermont courts are operating, changes to public benefits, new financial help, and more. Here we will keep a list of important changes to help Vermonters and community partners.

Topics on this page include:

Housing & Utilities

Work & Pay

Money & Food

Health Care

Other Topics

Please share our flyer!Screenshot of 2-page flyer about 7 ways to get help

Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont are here to help! Here are 7 ways to get help so you and your family remain stable. Read our list and download our two-page flyer to share. Translated flyers are also available at that link.  

HOUSING & UTILITIES

Rent help

Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) – Still available

Do you need help paying rent, need money to move, help paying utilities, or help fixing problems that affect the habitability of your housing? If so, learn about VERAP, a rent and utilities assistance program.

Learn about the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) and how to apply.

Translated VERAP information: Our PDFs do not meet the requirements for fully accessible documents. For the most accessible experience, see the plain text on this page. Download the PDFs: Af Soomaali / Somaliالعربية / Arabicမြန်မာစာ / BurmeseEspañol / SpanishFrançais / FrenchIkirundi / KirundiKiswahili / Swahiliनेपाली / Nepali

A note to Vermont landlords: Do you have questions about VERAP? You can get answers from the VERAP call center (call 1-833-488-3727), or the Vermont Landlord Association (call 802-985-2764 or 1-888-569-7368). You do not need to be a member of the association to get information on VERAP. You can also contact CVOEO if you are in Addison County (call 802-388-2285), Chittenden (call 802-863-6248 ext. 755), Franklin or Grand Isle Counties (call 802-338-5517). Or contact Groundworks Collaborative in Windham County (call 802-257-5415), or Upper Valley Haven in Windsor and Orange Counties (call 802-295-6500).

Habitability, heating and weatherization

Habitability and heating in rental housing: Free resources available now in Vermont to fix problems.

Evictions

Are you a tenant? Learn what to do if you are facing eviction at this time.

Are you a tenant in a motel or hotel?

In Vermont, whether you have a written lease or not, a hotel / motel resident becomes a “tenant” when your stay is exempt from the VT rooms and meals tax. This happens when you have occupied a room for at least 30 consecutive days. (Note: You are not legally a tenant if the General Assistance program of the Department for Children and Families pays for your stay.) 

If you are a tenant, you cannot be asked to leave right away. Normal legal steps for an eviction must be followed. If you think you are being sent away in error, contact us for help at 1-800-889-2047 or fill out our form. You can also send an e-mail to ACCD.Covid19@vermont.gov and describe your situation.

If you need help with emergency housing, call the Department for Children and Family's Benefits Service Center at 1-800-479-6151. Or you can call 2-1-1 or go online to Vermont211.org. 

Emergency housing

  • The Department for Children and Family's (DCF) Economic Services Division offers housing supports for homeless households. For more information or to apply, contact the Benefits Service Center at 1-800-479-6151. If it is after business hours or on a weekend or holiday, call 2-1-1.
  • When you apply for shelter with DCF, they will let you know if a shelter has opened in your area. You can call 2-1-1 to find out if there is a warming shelter or other shelter in your area.
  • If you are denied or terminated from a shelter or the state’s motel program, call us for help at 1-800-889-2047.
  • If you stay in a shelter or motel, you need to participate in “coordinated entry.” Through coordinated entry, you will be assigned a housing case manager who will help you access subsidies and programs to help you get permanent housing. To learn more about coordinated entry, call 2-1-1. If you worked with your case manager to apply for a subsidy or other program and your application was denied, call us for help at 1-800-889-2047.
  • Veterans can get housing help from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program at 1-844-820-3232 (toll-free); the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-424-3838 (toll-free); or Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs at 1-888-666-9844 (toll-free). Vermont Veterans facing eviction or foreclosure should contact the Safely Home project for advice and help.

Transitional Housing Program

Vermonters experiencing homelessness or who are about to become homeless may be eligible for emergency housing in some hotels. Read more about the Transitional Housing Program on DCF’s website. To apply, go in-person or call the Department for Children and Family's Economic Services Division (ESD) at 1-800-479-6151.

To be eligible for the Transitional Housing Program, you must:

If you were housed in a hotel under the General Assistance (GA) Emergency Housing rules in place during the COVID pandemic, you are eligible for the Transitional Housing Program.

If your application for the Transitional Housing Program is denied by ESD or you are terminated from the program for any reason, you can ask for an expedited fair hearing. Do this by contacting ESD at 1-800-479-6151 or the Human Services Board at 802-828-2536. If a motel paid for by the Transitional Housing Program asks you to leave, call ESD at 1-800-479-6151. Let them know what happened and ask to be placed in a different motel.

Always ask ESD for a notice of decision, whether you were:

  • approved or denied, or
  • are being terminated from the Transitional Housing Program, or
  • are being moved to a different hotel.

You can also ask us for advice by calling our legal helpline at 1-800-889-2047.

Tenant rights during the pandemic 

As a tenant, you have rights. Even during this pandemic, your landlord cannot take away these rights. This includes: 

  • your right to the quiet enjoyment of your residence
  • your right to privacy
  • your personal freedom to have visitors, and
  • your right to come and go from your residence.  

The COVID-19 pandemic does not allow owners/landlords of private residential units or complexes to unreasonably restrict their tenants’ rights. You may report these kinds of problems or concerns to the Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Locked out by landlord

It is still illegal for your landlord to lock you out, get rid of your belongings, or interfere with your utilities without going through a court process. For more information, see our page about Lockouts, Utility Shutoffs and Your Belongings.

If your landlord tries to change your locks or turn off your utilities, contact us right away to ask for help.

Landlords entering your rental unit or showing it to other people

  1. The regular rules of landlord access to your home apply now during the pandemic. But the landlord and anyone the landlord brings into your home have to follow CDC and Vermont Department of Health guidelines.
  2. Learn more about the landlord access law.  
  3. If you are worried about your landlord, realtor or repair people coming into your home, talk with your landlord about your concerns. Ask your landlord to keep a log of everyone they allow into your apartment.  
  4. We advise people who have health issues that make them at extra risk of exposure to make a reasonable accommodation request. Send a letter to your landlord to ask them to make adjustments to how they access your home due to your health issues. These are some adjustments you can ask for:  
  • do only virtual showings 
  • do fewer showings 
  • don’t do showings several times a day (too much cleaning) 
  • ask that landlords and visitors wear both gloves and masks, and/or 
  • ask that landlords and visitors touch as little as possible (leave interior doors open so that those don’t need to be touched) 

Find a sample letter on our Reasonable Accommodation page. If your landlord denies your reasonable accommodation request, contact us right away to ask for help. ​​​​​​

Mortgages and foreclosures

Learn about mortgage payments, mortgage help, and foreclosures during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

New program to help homeowners

Starting Monday, January 24, 2022, the Vermont Homeowner Assistance Program (VHAP) provides grants of up to $30,000 to eligible homeowners who have experienced a COVID financial hardship. The grants may help pay past-due mortgages, mobile home loans, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance premiums, association fees, utilities and other expenses. Learn more.

Translated information is available. Look for the language choices in the upper-right corner of https://vermonthap.vhfa.org/. They include: Af Soomaali / Somali, العربية / Arabic, မြန်မာစာ / Burmese, Español / Spanish, Français / French, Ikirundi / Kirundi, Kiswahili / Swahili, नेपाली / Nepali, Tiếng Việt / Vietnamese, 中文 / Chinese. 

Heat / Water / Septic / Electricity / Phones / Internet / Utilities

  • If you have no heat, water or electricitycontact us right away to ask for help.
  • Renters: Learn about applying for VERAP, a rent and utilities assistance program*translated information available  If you only need help with utilities, visit https://vtutilityhelp.com/ for details on the VERAP-U (Utilities only) payments.
  • Renters and landlords: Habitability and heating in rental housing: Free resources available now in Vermont to fix problems.
  • Homeowners: Learn about applying for the Vermont Homeowner Assistance Program (VHAP).  *translated information available
  • Homeowners: Learn about a new program from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources that can help low- and moderate-income Vermont homeowners replace their home water or wastewater systems. The Healthy Homes On-Site Program provides help to eligible property owners, including owner-occupied multi-family properties with up to four units. Applications for the first round of funding are open through April 15, 2022. Starting April 16, applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and funding will be provided as available. Visit the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources website for details.
  • Renters and homeowners who apply for help with their utilities bills through VERAP (for renters) and VHAP (for homeowners) should contact their utility companies to tell them they applied for help. Some utilities say they will not disconnect Vermonters during the application process. Give them your application ID number.
  • See our Heat, Energy and Water Assistance Programs page to learn about other ongoing programs that may help you get power, fuel, water and heat for your home.
  • If you need help dealing with utility payments, apply for financial help — see the programs above. Consider asking your utility company for a long-term payment plan. Your local Vermont Community Action Agency can help you.
  • Internet help from the FCC: The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is an FCC benefit program that helps households afford the broadband internet service they need for work, school, healthcare and more. It gives a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. Learn more about the ACP program.
  • The FCC also announced that the Lifeline program will suspend some rules to help keep low-income Vermonters connected by phone and internet. Lifeline is a federal program that gives a $9.25 monthly discount on phone or internet service to eligible households. Learn how to apply.
  • Also, learn about a low-income internet program called Internet Essentials that offers two free months during this crisis.
  • The Consumer Affairs & Public Information (CAPI) Division of the Department of Public Service can help Vermonters with regulated utility concerns. This includes electric, telephone, natural gas and private water service. They also try to help with cell phone services and broadband matters. You can contact them:

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WORK & PAY

Unemployment

Unsafe workplace

If you think your workplace is not safe, contact Vermont’s Occupational and Health Administration (VOSHA) to discuss your concerns. You may be asked to fill out a complaint form about the hazards.

Complaints are retyped and your name and personal information are removed. Employees are protected from discrimination for filing a complaint with VOSHA. If you are a victim of discrimination because you filed a complaint, contact VOSHA within 30 days. If you are discriminated against, you may also file a private action (law suit) against your employer.

Small business help

For information on help for businesses, see the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development website. Find some translated small business information on the US Small Business Administration (SBA) website

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MONEY & FOOD

COVID-19 economic impact payments / stimulus checks

Learn more about the economic impact payments / stimulus checks from the federal government

Food

Hunger Free Vermont is posting information about how to access food, including meals for school children and seniors, WIC, foodbanks and 3SquaresVT. You can also call 2-1-1 to ask about ways to get help with food.

3SquaresVT

3SquaresVT (known under federal law as the SNAP program and known commonly as “food stamps”) can help you meet your family’s food needs. Even if you have never received 3SquaresVT before, you should apply if your income has changed and your family is experiencing food insecurity.

Learn more about how to apply, and the laws and procedures for the 3SquaresVT program that have changed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Debt collection cases

If you got a notice of hearing, check the Vermont Judiciary website or call your courthouse ahead of time. You may get approved to attend your court hearing over the phone or by video instead of going to the courthouse. 

If you have received a Summons and Complaint, you need to send a written Answer to the court within 30 days from when you got it. You may be able to send the court your answer by email; check the Vermont Judiciary website for ways to do this. If you can’t email, you can mail your Answer to the address of the court on your Summons. Or, you can take it to the courthouse and put it in a dropbox in the lobby.

Debt resources

Student loans

Learn about the help you can get with your federal or private student loans during this crisis.

Credit reports

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in the U.S. can get a free credit report each week from all three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is available through December 31, 2022.

Scams

Beware! Learn how scammers have devised ways to take money from people during this crisis.

Social Security

  • All local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices have reopened to in-person service as of April 7, 2022.
  • SSA expects offices to be very busy. They strongly encourage you to continue to go online, call for help, and schedule appointments in advance.
  • If you go to a SSA office, you will have to answer medical screening questions. You will not be allowed in the office if SSA field office staff decide there is a risk you could spread COVID-19. You may need to wait outside due to limited space in the offices. If you are sick, call to reschedule your appointment, or ask to meet by phone.
  • See recent Social Security updates on the SSA website at https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus/.
  • SSA is also updating its phone system and you may encounter some problems when you call.
  • Find the addresses and phone numbers for the Vermont Social Security offices on our Social Security page.
  • Many hearings and interviews with SSA offices are happening over the phone. If you are waiting for an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing, you may be asked if you agree to have the hearing by phone.
  • Contact us for help with overpayments and other Social Security benefits problems.

Were you denied SSI benefits since March 2020?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is reopening many applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits that they denied from March 2020 to today because those decisions may have been wrong. Some cases will be automatically reviewed and letters will be sent to applicants. For other cases, you will need to contact the agency to correct the errors.

SSA is now reopening denials where they counted pandemic-related financial assistance in their decision. SSA later decided those payments should be excluded for SSI purposes.

Other applicants can contact SSA and ask that their application be reopened.

  • This includes SSI recipients who got an overpayment notice.
  • This also includes SSI recipients whose benefits were reduced or suspended due to getting some disaster assistance.

Ask for your application to be reopened by:

  • faxing a letter to your local SSA office,
  • mailing a letter, or
  • calling your local office.

Keep a copy of anything you send to SSA.

There are also other SSI denials from 2020 and 2021 which will not be sent a letter, but will be addressed by SSA employees. These include:

  • denied claims with pending appeals
  • denied claims with pending subsequent applications, and
  • denied claims with approved subsequent applications.

If you have questions about your SSI denial, contact us for advice. Be sure to have your letters from Social Security at hand.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other income (including unemployment)

In August 2021, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decided that many pandemic-related payments, like stimulus checks and unemployment benefits paid since March 2020, will not be counted as income for SSI purposes. This money also does not count toward the resource limit for SSI for as long as you have the money. (You should still be sure to tell Social Security about the unemployment money.) If Social Security counted these payments when calculating your SSI benefit or deciding if you were eligible, they should contact you. Your benefits could be increased, and you could get benefits for months when you were underpaid. If you get a lump-sum payment for months when you were underpaid, that lump sum will not count as a resource for nine months.

You should make sure that Social Security has your current address and respond to their requests for information. You can also contact your local SSA office and ask them to review your benefits again.

TaxesImage of a family that says: Learn about the Child Tax Credit

Property taxes

 

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HEALTH CARE

Health insurance & Medicaid

New financial help for health insurance

You may be eligible for new financial help for health insurance due to the American Rescue Plan. Learn more.

Have you lost your health insurance?

If you have lost your job or health insurance, you may qualify for a special enrollment period which gives you 60 days to apply for a Vermont Health Connect plan. You don't have to wait until November. Learn more on our Vermont Health Connect pages.

You can apply for Medicaid at any time. If you are making less money or no money, it makes sense to see if you are now eligible for Medicaid. Learn more on our Medicaid pages.

To talk about health insurance options or problems, contact the Office of the Health Care Advocate (HCA). Call 1-800-917-7787 to speak with a health care advocate, or fill out our Help Request Form. The HCA is a free service for Vermonters.

Graphic that says COVID vaccinations and health info

COVID-19 vaccine

  • Anyone age 5 and older is eligible to be vaccinated, regardless of where you are a resident.
  • Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous, or a person of color (BIPOC), including anyone with Abenaki or other First Nations heritage, can sign up a couple of ways. See the Vermont Department of Health website to learn how.
  • English language learners and people in immigrant/refugee communities can sign up a couple of ways. This includes calling the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) at 802-985-3106 or USCRI VT at 802-655-1963.
  • Homebound Vermonters can call their home health agency, or call 802-863-7240 (toll-free 833-722-0860).
  • Veterans of all ages who use VA Healthcare can call 802-296-5151. Veterans not enrolled in VA Healthcare can call 802-295-9363 extension 4004 or 5118.

Booster shots are available in Vermont. Learn more on the Vermont Department of Health website.

The shots are free. You don’t need to have health insurance. See the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) website to sign up or call 1-855-722-7878 toll-free. Translated information is also found on the DOH website or call that number and press 1. Translations in नेपाली (Nepali), Soomaali (Somali), Español (Spanish), Swahili, Kirundi, မြန်မာစာ (Burmese), العربية (Arabic), Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese) and Français (French).

Free rides for vaccination: Vermonters who don't have access to their own transportation can get a free ride to their scheduled vaccine clinic. Find your local provider on the VPTA website and make a reservation in advance.

Advance directives

Signing an advance directive during COVID-19

Vermont law gives instructions on how to create an advance directive. Normally the law says you should be with your witnesses when you sign. Because this has been a problem for many during the coronavirus emergency, Vermont passed a new law. It temporarily lets people sign advance directives even when their witnesses are only available by phone or video.

I want to create an advance directive:

If you want to create an advance directive between June 15, 2020, and March 31, 2023, but you cannot physically be with witnesses:

  1. Create or fill out an advance directive document with your health care wishes.

  2. Identify two adults willing to be your witnesses. You must know each other, but witnesses cannot be your agent or your immediate family members (spouse, parent, sibling, child, or grandchild). Have witnesses be on the phone or a video chat while you sign and date your document.

  3. Tell your witnesses: “By being my remote witness, you are attesting to the fact that I, the principal, seem to understand the nature and effect of this advance directive and seem to be free from duress or undue influence.” Ask your witnesses if they agree. If they do, then follow step 4.

  4. Write each witness’s name, contact information, and relationship to you on the document. In the witness signature line, write “witnessed by phone/video because of COVID-19 restrictions.”

If you follow these steps between June 15, 2020, and March 31, 2023, your advance directive will stay valid unless you change or revoke it.

I created an advance directive with remote witnesses before June 15, 2020:

Some people created advance directives during the emergency before the new law passed. If you created an advance directive with remote witnesses between February 15, 2020, and June 15, 2020, your document may be temporarily valid as long as you followed certain steps:

  1. If you and your witnesses knew each other. Your witnesses must also be adults and cannot be your agent or your immediate family member,
  2. If your witnesses were informed about the role of being a witness to an advance directive, and
  3. If you included your witnesses' names and contact information on the document.

If you followed these steps and created an advance directive between February 15 and June 15, 2020, your document is valid until June 30, 2022. You should sign a replacement advance directive as soon as you are able. Learn more about advance directives.

Immigrants, health care and the “public charge”

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that immigrants can use health care to get treatment or preventative services for the COVID-19 coronavirus without having it held against them for public charge purposes. Learn more about Public benefits and the Public Charge Rule for Immigration.

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OTHER TOPICS

Free legal clinics for Vermont seniors 60+

Vermont Legal Aid is hosting virtual legal advice clinics by phone. Vermont seniors — age 60 or more — can ask legal questions about COVID-19 or any civil legal question. We can help with health care, social security, consumer debt, housing, unemployment and more. Learn how to schedule an appointment.

Vermont court hearings and trials

If you have a court hearing, read your hearing notice carefully to see if it will be held in person or by phone or video. Call the court that is listed on your hearing notice if you have questions.

Check the Vermont Judicary website for updates on court operations and instructions. The website also includes where to find forms, how to file documents, and how to request records.

The courts require that you wear a mask in a courthouse. They recommend wearing a N95, KN95 or KF94 mask if you need to enter a courthouse. These may provide greater protection from Covid infection than other masks.

Tips for “Remote Hearings” — Court Hearings by Video or Phone

Do you have a remote hearing in Vermont? “Remote” hearings are hearings where some or all of the people participate by video or by phone. Read our tip sheet to know how to prepare for a remote court hearing.

Check the Vermont Judicary website for updates on court operations and instructions. The website also includes where to find forms, how to file documents, and how to request records.

Education

Special education

Learn about special education and the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Rights of homeless students

The Vermont Agency of Education issued a guidance document on the rights of homeless students during the COVID-19 emergency. In short:

  • School districts still need to find and enroll students experiencing homelessness.
  • If a student becomes homeless during the COVID-19 emergency for any reason, all McKinney-Vento Act protections are still in effect.
  • School districts still need to provide what homeless students need for full participation. This can include purchase of technology and connectivity in some cases.

Legal help for farmworkers

Videos by Legal Services Vermont and Pine Tree Legal Assistance give a quick overview of free, confidential legal help for farmworkers in Vermont and other New England States. In one video, two legal aid lawyers talk about workplace safety and legal protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. See our H2-A farmworkers page.

Translated COVID-19 coronavirus information 

Virtual Town Halls

We were hosting virtual town halls on issues during the coronavirus crisis. Follow this link to watch all of our town halls on these topics: special education, taxes, health care, long-term care, debt, unemployment, stimulus checks, rent help, mortgage help and more.

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Recent updates to this information

6/30/2022

5/27/2022

4/21/2022

  • Free weekly credit reports have been extended through December 31, 2022. Everyone in the U.S. can get a free credit report each week from all three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at AnnualCreditReport.com. 

4/19/2022

  • Even though it’s past April 18, it's not too late to act to get the Child Tax Credit, which could put money in your pocket if you have kids. It’s also not too late to act to get the stimulus payment that you were owed. Learn more.

4/14/2022

  • We updated our federal student loans information to include new announcements, such as the pause on payment of these loans has been extended through August 31, 2022.

4/8/2022

4/7/2022

3/31/2022

3/9/2022

3/2/2022

 

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Updated: Jun 30, 2022