COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters

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Updated 7/11/2020 12:00 p.m.

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

If you are having a legal or benefits problem related to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, contact us for help. Use the following link for help from the Office of the Health Care Advocate.

Topics on this page include:

 

Virtual Town Halls: Join online or by phone, or watch past events

We're hosting a series of virtual town halls on legal issues during the coronavirus crisis. You can attend online or by telephone.

Schedule of upcoming town halls:

  • Thursday, July 16, at 10 a.m.: New rental assistance for Vermonters. Vermont Legal Aid Attorney Jean Murray will talk about the new financial help renters can get to pay overdue rent. She'll discuss how it works and how you can apply. Jean will also answer your questions live.

  • Thursday, July 23, at 10 a.m.: New mortgage assistance for Vermonters. Vermont Legal Aid Attorney Grace Pazdan will get us up to speed on how it works and how you can apply. She will also answer your questions live.

How to join the town hall:
Watch past town halls:
  • Thursday, April 16, at 10 a.m.: CARES Act stimulus checks - Watch the video on Facebook or YouTube. Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic attorney Zach Lees talks about: who can get a stimulus check; how and when to expect the payment; and potential impact on public benefits, health care coverage and subsidized housing.
  • Thursday, April 23, at 10 a.m.: Unemployment benefit changes - Watch the video on Facebook or YouTube. Vermont Legal Aid attorney Kelli Kazmarski talks about: new unemployment programs due to COVID-19; new rules, new issues; how to apply for and get weekly benefits; and what to do if you have a problem.
  • Thursday, April 30, at 10 a.m.: Health insurance and access to health care - Watch the video on Facebook or YouTube. Annalee Beaulieu of the Office of the Health Care Advocate at Vermont Legal Aid talks about: health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and access to health care.
  • Thursday, May 7, at 10 a.m.: Rental housing and eviction - Watch the video on Facebook or YouTube. Vermont Legal Aid attorney Jean Murray talks about: changes to landlord-tenant law as a result of COVID-19; what a Vermont eviction moratorium would mean; and the new federal law that affects tenants. Legislation and rules around housing are changing frequently. We are staying on top of these changes, and ask that you keep checking the information on this website
  • Thursday, May 28, at 10 a.m.: Debt problems - Watch the video on Facebook or YouTube. Legal Services Vermont attorney Maggie Frye talks about debt and the COVID-19 crisis. Topics include changes to court practices after COVID-19 as well as responding to letters, phone calls and lawsuits by debt collectors.
  • Thursday, June 4, at 10 a.m.: Long-term care - Watch the video on Facebook or YouTube. Sean Londergan of the Vermont Long-Term Care Ombudsman Project at Vermont Legal Aid talked about long-term care in facilities (nursing homes, residential care homes and assisted living residences) and community settings (at home) during COVID-19.
  • Thursday, June 11, at 10 a.m.: Special education and students living with disability - Watch the video on Facebook or YouTube. Rachel Seelig and Marilyn Mahusky, staff attorneys with the Disability Law Project at Vermont Legal Aid, talked about the COVID-19 emergency, remote learning, and parent and student rights — including IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). They shared tips on what to keep an eye on now and how to solve problems.
  • Thursday, July 9, at 10 a.m.: Taxes and health care - Watch the video on Facebook. The tax filing deadline is July 15. Join us for a town hall on taxes, health insurance and Premium Tax Credits. Vermont Legal Aid tax attorney Zach Lees and Health Care Advocate Emily Bens talk about dealing with tax issues, deadlines and how to get Premium Tax Credits. 

COVID-19 economic impact payments / stimulus checks

The federal coronavirus relief law (called the CARES Act) will give money to most adults in the United States. The IRS will send the money to your home or deposit it in your bank account. Some people who have not filed a tax return will need to file a tax form to get the money. Learn more about the economic impact payments / stimulus checks. This information is also available in: Español / SpanishAf Soomaali / SomaliIkirundi / Kirundiالعربية / Arabicမြန်မာစာ / BurmeseKiswahili / Swahili, नेपाली / Nepali, Français / French. Translations supported by the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Vermont courts are postponing many court hearings and trials

Many “non-emergency” court hearings were postponed until after May 31, 2020. The courts may do some hearings over the phone or by video. Jury trials will not be scheduled until later (September 1 at the earliest in criminal cases; January 1, 2021, in non-criminal cases). Follow this link to learn more about court hearings in Vermont.

New court filings

If you get any court papers, be sure to respond in the time you are given. Filing deadlines are still in effect.

Filing by email

During this health crisis, if you need to file a document or motion with a Vermont court, you can do so by email. As a “signature” the court will accept:

  • the filer’s name typed in with "/s/" in front of it. Example: /s/ Joseph Smith

  • or an electronic signature

  • or a scanned signature.

Note: This does not apply to documents that need to be notarized. If you have a court form that requires a notary’s signature (for example, a family court motion form or an application to waive filing fees), but you cannot find a notary due to the health crisis, call your court clerk. Ask them how to proceed.

Use the email address for your specific court division. Attach your filing (motion, answer, etc.) to the email. The subject line of the email must state the court division where it is being filed and the case docket number.

Find your court's email address, mailing address and phone numbers on the Vermont Judiciary website.

Even if you are filing court papers by email, you still need to send the opposing party in your case a copy of what you sent to the court. And you need to send the court a Certificate of Service to prove that you did this.

Check the Vermont Judicary website for updates on court operations and instructions.

Paying rent

There is no rule, executive order or new law that says tenants don’t have to pay rent during the emergency period.

If you have a very low income or are homeless, call 2-1-1. Otherwise, apply for the Rental Housing Stabilization Program.

New: Rental Housing Stabilization Program offers help with unpaid rent

For help with unpaid rent, Vermonters should apply for the Rental Housing Stabilization Program through the Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA). Starting July 13, VSHA is accepting applications from landlords and tenants, and paying landlords directly to bring the tenant’s accounts current. Learn more about this help for paying unpaid rent on our website.

A note to Vermont landlords

Do you have questions about getting back rent from a tenant? You can get answers from the Vermont Landlords Association at 802-985-2764 or 1-888-569-7368. You do not need to be a member of the association to get information on the back-rent assistance program or other COVID-related rental issues including:

  • landlord access
  • tenant interactions
  • health and safety requirements, and
  • the current status of evictions.

Evictions

Learn how you may be protected from eviction in Vermont.

Hotel “evictions” due to governor's mandate

Have you been asked to leave a hotel or rental property because of the governor’s recent rules to restrict non-essential lodging? If you think you are being sent away in error, send an e-mail to ACCD.Covid19@vermont.gov and describe your situation. The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) can address each instance based on the details.

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. 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 of 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.

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.

Emergency housing

The Department of Children and Family's Economic Services Division is extending housing supports for homeless individuals in Vermont who:

  • are over age 60, or
  • have underlying health conditions as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For more information, contact the Benefits Service Center at 1-800-479-6151.

If you need help with emergency housing or paying your rent, you can also call 2-1-1 or go online to Vermont211.org.

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).

Landlords entering your rental unit or showing it to other people

If you are worried about people in your home during the coronavirus crisis, there are a couple of options for how to handle it.

  1. You do not have to let the landlord in to show the unit, at least for now. The state says “realtors and landlords may not require occupants of a home or apartment to allow potential buyers or renters into their homes during this extraordinary time.” See this information on the state's website
  2. If your home needs repairs, the landlord does have the right to come in to make repairs. The landlord has to follow CDC guidelines when coming into your home, but otherwise the regular rules about landlord access apply. Learn more about the landlord access law.
  3. If you are worried about your landlord or repair people coming into your home, talk with your landlord about your concerns. Try to work something out by agreement. You can and should ask your landlord and others to maintain physical distancing of six feet at all times, wear masks, and have them keep a log of everyone they allow into your apartment. 
  4. If you prefer not to be there when your landlord comes over, talk with your landlord about when they should come over. Ask them how long their visit will take so that you can plan to return home when they're done. You do not have to stay during a landlord visit to your apartment, but you do not have to leave either. This is a choice you can make. 
  5. 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 not to come to your home during this public health crisis. You can find a sample letter on our Reasonable Accommodation page. If your landlord denies your reasonable accommodation request, or says they’re going to come over anyway, contact us right away to ask for help.

Mortgages and foreclosures

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

New: Vermont COVID Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program

Between July 13 and August 31, 2020, Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) will accept applications for the Vermont COVID Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program. The program is funded through the federal CARES Act. It will help Vermont homeowners facing economic hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This program is available to all Vermonters with mortgage payments on their primary residence who meet the income requirements — not just those with a VHFA mortgage. The program could help pay up to three monthly mortgage payments. Learn more about the mortgage assistance on our website.

Heat / Water / Electricity / Phones / Internet

If you have no heat, water or electricity, contact us right away to ask for help.

On March 18, after Vermont Legal Aid submitted a letter requesting action to prevent shutoffs, the Vermont Public Utility Commission ordered a temporary moratorium on involuntary natural gas, electric and telecommunications service disconnections. It has been extended through July 31. This means that if you are not able to make your payments for natural gas, electricity or land-line telephones, you will not be shut off. However, charges will still accrue during this time. You will have to make up the payments at a later date.

Comcast, Consolidated, Sprint, AT&T and some other internet and cell phone service providers have pledged not to shut off customers as well. Contact your provider about their policy. Charges will still accrue during this time. You will have to make up the payments at a later date.

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. Follow this link for a list of other connectivity resources.

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:

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”) is available to 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.

New benefit for kids who get free or reduced-price meals at school

Families with children in Vermont schools who receive free or reduced-price meals will get help to pay for food during this emergency. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefit is $387.60 per eligible child. If you get 3SquaresVT now, you will see the extra benefit added to your EBT card by May 27. If you have children in schools where all students receive free or reduced-price lunch, an EBT card will be mailed to you by May 27.

If your income has dropped, you can apply now to these programs  to see if you are eligible for this benefit:

Learn more on the Department of Children and Families website

Health insurance & Medicaid

Vermont Health Connect announced a Special Enrollment Period for health insurance due to coronavirus crisis. If you don’t have health insurance, sign up with Vermont Health Connect by August 14.

To talk about health insurance options or problems, please contact us at 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.

You can apply for Medicaid at any time. Learn more on our Medicaid pages.

Advance directives

Signing an advance directive during COVID-19

Vermont law gives instructions on how to create an advance directive. Normally the law says that you should be with your witnesses when you sign. Because this was 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 during the coronavirus emergency:

If you want to create an advance directive between June 15, 2020 and June 30, 2021, 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 June 30, 2021, 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 and June 15, your document may be temporarily valid as long as you followed certain steps:

a. If you and your witnesses knew each other. Your witnesses must also be adults and cannot be your agent or your immediate family member,

b. If your witnesses were informed about the role of being a witness to an advance directive, and

c. 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, 2021. 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.

Translated COVID-19 coronavirus information

Unemployment

If you lost your job or had your hours cut due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, you probably can get some help. You can apply for benefits even if your employer says not to. If you are self-employed, an independent contractor or freelancer, you could be eligible if you meet the other criteria.

Paid leave from work (sick leave & family and medical leave)

Read about paid leave in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis

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

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act makes emergency cash advances of up to $10,000 and loans of up to $10 million available to small businesses. For more information on this and other help for businesses, see the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development website.

Social Security

All local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public for in-person service. Visit the SSA website to learn how to get help online or over the phone. The website also tells you what is happening with previously scheduled appointments.

SSA announced it has suspended the following until further notice:

  • SSA will not start or complete any current medical continuing disability reviews. If you have a medical continuing disability review pending, please do not ask for medical information from your doctors at this time. They will follow up with you for any medical evidence once the COVID-19 public health emergency subsides. If you are waiting for a hearing on your continuing disability review decision and you continue to receive benefit payments, SSA will schedule your hearing once the offices reopen to the public. If you are waiting for a hearing on your continuing disability review decision but you are not currently receiving benefits, SSA will proceed with your hearing. 
  • SSA will not conduct any non-disability hearings.
  • Where possible, they are suspending processing and collection of overpayments.
  • They are not conducting organization or individual representative payee accountings.
  • SSA is not processing third party-requests for information, except from appointed representatives and representative payees.
  • They will not process any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Are you getting provisional (temporary) payments of Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits while waiting to see if you qualify for expedited reinstatement? Normally, Social Security will pay six months of temporary benefits. If your six months is up and those temporary payments were scheduled to end, SSA will not stop payments because of COVID-19. SSA will keep paying those benefits for now.

Contact us for help with Social Security benefits problems. 

Taxes

Follow this link to find out what you need to know about filing and paying your taxes this year.

Tax sale due to unpaid property taxes

If you've been told that your home or property is going through a tax sale, please let us know. In addition, contact your town. Find out if they are postponing the sale until after the coronavirus crisis is over.

Debt collection cases

If you received a notice of hearing for a date before May 31, the debt collection hearing will be rescheduled. If you are scheduled for a court hearing before September 1, 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 by the deadline (21 days from the day you were served by the sheriff, or 30 days from when you got the small claims complaint in the mail). You may be able to send the court your answer by email; see above or 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

Banks and loans

Some banks say that you should call them about your COVID-19 related hardships. Some are saying publicly that they will try to work with customers on loan payment, repossession or foreclosure. Here's a list of national banks and financial institutions that said they can help in some way. We don't have information on Vermont banks, so call your bank and ask how they can help you.

Student loans

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

Scams

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

Child custody and visitation

What should Vermont parents know if they want to modify a custody or visitation order because they want to protect children from exposure to COVID-19?

Education

Special education

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

Students and their internet connection

Do you have students at home who don't have access to the internet? The Vermont Department of Public Service is asking Vermonters to do a quick survey online or on the phone. This information will be used to report on locations where students don't access to the internet or where consumers want service to be improved. Your responses, without identifying information, may be shared with internet service providers. Fill out the survey or call 1-800-622-4496.

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.

Long-term care / Nursing homes

Read about COVID-19 and the impact on nursing homes, long-term care facilities and senior centers.

 

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Recent updates to this information

7/11/2020

7/10/2020

7/8/2020

7/7/2020

6/30/2020

6/24/2020

6/22/2020

6/19/2020

  • The governor announced that long-term care facilities (nursing homes, residential care homes and assisted living) may now offer outdoor visitation. He also announced that Senior Centers may begin to reopen. Learn more.

6/18/2020

6/17/2020

6/15/2020

6/12/2020:

6/5/2020:

6/4/2020:

6/3/2020:

6/2/2020:

6/1/2020:

5/29/2020:

  • The Vermont Public Utility Commission moratorium on involuntary natural gas, electric and telecommunications service disconnections has been extended through July 31.

5/26/2020:

 

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Updated: Jul 13, 2020