COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters

Graphic that says "Coronavirus Legal and Benefits Updates"

Updated 5/21/2020 4 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

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

Here are the topics of upcoming town halls:

  • Thursday, May 28, at 10 a.m.: Debt problems. 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. Maggie will also answer your questions on Facebook and Zoom.
  • Date TBD. Long-term care including skilled nursing, residential care and at-home care
  • Date TBD. Special education and other topics relevant to young people living with disability
How to join the town hall:

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

Some "non-emergency" court hearings will be 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 even 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 need help paying rent, call 2-1-1 or go online to Vermont211.org for possible resources.

Evictions

On May 14, 2020, Governor Phil Scott signed an eviction moratorium (a ban on evictions). Learn more about how you may be protected from eviction.

Hotel “evictions” due to governor's mandate

Have you been asked to leave a hotel or rental property because of the governor’s recent rule to restrict non-essential lodging? The order states that lodging facilities — which includes hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns, short-term rentals (e.g. VRBO, Homeaway, Airbnb, etc.), and all public and private camping facilities and RV parks — are to be closed except for stated exemptions and when supporting the state’s COVID-19 response. 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.

Landlords entering your rental unit or showing it to other people

If you do not want people in your home during this coronavirus outbreak, there are a couple of options for how to handle it. 

  1. Tell your landlord about your concerns. Hopefully they will agree not to come to your home.
  2. We advise that showing an occupied home during the state of emergency is operating a close-contact business in violation of the governor's emergency declaration. You can deny entry and call the police to tell them what is happening. It is this kind of close contact that presents a risk of spreading infection.
  3. 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.
  4. Normally, the landlord needs to give 48 hours notice before coming to your home. Learn more about the landlord access law.

Foreclosures

Learn about foreclosures and the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

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 May 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 during this time 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. 

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.

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 June 15.

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. It says that you should be with your witnesses when you sign. This is a problem for many during the current coronavirus emergency.

The Vermont legislature is considering a bill that would allow remote witnessing of advance directives due to COVID-19. If you want to create an advance directive now, 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.”

Right now, this procedure does not follow the legal signing instructions exactly, but allows you to write down your wishes so that you can share them with your care providers and agent. If you cannot make health care decisions for yourself, your agent should make decisions for you based on what they think you would have wanted. Health care providers and hospitals should also follow the wishes you express even if the document is not signed according to law.

If you create a document with remote witnesses, you should be prepared to sign a replacement advance directive with in-person witnesses as soon as it's safe to do so.

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. Learn about unemployment benefits in response to the coronavirus crisis. This information is also available in: Af Soomaali / Somaliالعربية / Arabicမြန်မာစာ / BurmeseIkirundi / KirundiKiswahili / Swahili, नेपाली / Nepali, Français / French. Translations supported by the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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 have received a notice of hearing for a date before May 31, the debt collection hearing is canceled and 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.

 

To top of page

 

Recent updates to this information

5/21/2020:

5/20/2020:

 

To top of page

Updated: May 21, 2020