COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters

Graphic that says "Coronavirus Legal and Benefits Updates"

Updated 9/16/2022 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) 

    The VERAP program is winding down. Apply before September 30, 2022, for help with rent arrears and utilities! Learn about the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) and how to apply.

    Scroll down for FAQs about eviction and the end of VERAP.

    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

    Evictions

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

    FAQs about eviction and the end of VERAP

    Q: I am a tenant and I have used VERAP to pay my rent. Can the landlord evict me just because VERAP is ending?

    A: No. If you make sure your rent is paid, you can’t be evicted for non-payment of rent. But remember, if you can’t pay all of your rent on time, your landlord may have grounds to evict you.

    • To evict you for non-payment of rent, your landlord should give you 30 days’ notice. (It could be shorter if the property you live in is not covered by the federal law. 15 U.S.C. 9058.)
    • The notice should give you to the end of your rental period (usually a month) to catch up on rent. If you pay what is due, you can’t be evicted for non-payment of rent. 9 V.S.A. § 4467(a).
    • Learn more about eviction rules and court process at https://vtlawhelp.org/evictions

    Q: I live in a motel/hotel. Are eviction rules different?

    A: Yes, the rules for residents of motels can be different. It depends on how long you have lived there, and whether Department for Children and Families (DCF) pays the owner for you to stay there.

    IF… You have lived in the hotel/motel over 30 days AND if one of the following is true:

    • You self-pay your rent directly to the owner, or
    • VERAP is paying rent assistance, or
    • VERAP is reimbursing you for your short-term motel stay paid by VERAP “Other Expenses Related to Housing” program

    THEN…

    • You have the rights of a “tenant” and the owner must follow the requirements of the Residential Rental Agreements Act (9 V.S.A. § 4451) to evict you. This includes giving you written notice to terminate your tenancy.  The number of days of notice depends on the reason for eviction. You can’t be given a non-payment notice unless you are behind on rent.
    • Learn more about eviction rules and court process for tenants at https://vtlawhelp.org/evictions

    IF… You have lived in the hotel/motel over 30 days and DCF pays through the Transitional Housing Assistance Program

    THEN…

    • The owner must give you notice that your occupancy agreement is ending at least 10 days before the end of the month.

    IF… You have lived in the hotel/motel over 30 days and DCF pays through the Emergency Assistance/General Assistance program

    THEN…

    • The owner can end your residency at any time, even without notice. Depending on the reason, you may or may not be able to have EA/GA pay for a different hotel.

    IF… You have lived in the hotel/motel for LESS THAN 30 DAYS

    THEN…

    • The owner can ask you to leave at any time according to hotel policy.

    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 have used up all your eligibility for VERAP rental assistance, you can apply for emergency housing through the Department for Children and Family's (DCF) Economic Services Division. It is harder to qualify for this program. You can only get 28 or 84 days of General Assistance (GA) housing (depending on your situation) every 12 months.
    • 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 Update 9/2/2022

    • If you currently have a motel room through the Transitional Housing Program, you will probably see no changes right now. You may keep getting assistance through March 2023, but that is still not completely clear. Contact us if you have a problem with your current transitional housing.
    • However, the Transitional Housing Program will only take new applications through September 30, 2022. Learn how to apply. 
    • General Assistance (GA) Emergency Housing is available for people who qualify and who cannot get Transitional Housing because they have run out of VERAP-funded months. GA will still be available after September 30 for those who qualify. It is harder to qualify for GA and there are limits on the number of days you can get assistance. Visit or call your local Economic Services Division district office to apply.
    • We will update this information when more details are available.

    Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Update 9/2/2022

    • On October 1, 2022, at 7:45 a.m., Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA) will open its waiting list and accept applications for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.
    • The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program can help you afford decent, safe housing. If you are eligible, you'll be put on a waiting list. Once housing funds are available, you'll get a voucher and you will have to find your own housing. The voucher will help pay for your rent.
    • You can apply online at https://www.pha-web.com/portals/onlineApplication/1635
    • You can get a paper application by:
    • For more information call 802-828-3295 (voice); 800-798-3118 (TTY); 800-820-5119 (messages).

    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

    The Vermont Homeowner Assistance Program (VHAP) provides grants of up to $30,000 to eligible homeowners who have had a COVID-related 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 electricity, contact us right away to ask for help.
    • Renters: Learn about applying for VERAP, a rent and utilities assistance program, and apply now. *translated information available If you only need help with utilities, visit https://vtutilityhelp.com/ for details on the VERAP-U (Utilities only) payments.
    • Renters: The new Rapid Energy Assistance Program (REAP) is for tenants. It offers help with paying for fuel that you use:
      • to stay warm
      • to heat your water, and
      • to cook.

      This includes:

      • heating oil
      • propane
      • kerosene
      • wood, and
      • wood pellets.

      Check if your income makes you eligible for this program. APPLY NOW and get fuel delivery before September 30, 2022, to get the fuel paid in full. After that, 70% of the fuel bill is covered. The program ends December 31, 2022, so you must apply and get fuel delivery by the end of the year. This program helps pay overdue fuel bills and current fuel bills for up to 18 months (while REAP funds are still available). The program is available now, so you may not need to wait for seasonal fuel assistance later in the year. Before the weather turns cold, REAP may help you get fuel from vendors who want an up-front payment. Fill out the REAP application on the Vermont Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (VERAP) application website. If you don’t have an account for that site, you will need to make one. It is free to apply. Once you are in, select REAP as the program you want to apply for. Already enrolled in VERAP-Utilities? Just update your application and select REAP. If you have questions about REAP, call 833-488-3727.

    • 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), a mortgage, property tax and utilities assistance program. *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 failed 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 will be accepted again in December 2022. Visit the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources website for details.
    • Renters and homeowners who apply for help with their utility 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. If it is a private electric or natural gas utility, they cannot shut off your service while you have an application pending. To prevent a shutoff, give them your application ID number and the date you applied.
    • 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:

    Habitability, heating and weatherization

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

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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.

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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 can send the court your answer by email; check the Vermont Judiciary website for how 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 and boosters

    • You can be vaccinated in Vermont even if you are not a Vermont resident.
    • Booster shots are available in Vermont. Learn more on the Vermont Department of Health website.
    • 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 1-833-722-0860).
    • 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.

    The shots are free. You don’t need to have health insurance. See the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) website to find a vaccination site or call 1-800-464-4343 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 vaccination. 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 recommend that you wear a mask in a courthouse. They recommend wearing a N95, KN95 or KF94 mask. Inside a courtroom, the judge can require masks if needed due to health considerations.

    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

    9/16/2022

    9/2/2022

    8/31/2022

    8/22/2022

     

     

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    Updated: Sep 16, 2022