COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters

Graphic that says "COVID-19 Coronavirus Legal and Benefits Updates"

Updated as of 4/6/2020  12 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.

COVID-19 coronavirus economic impact / stimulus payments

The federal coronavirus relief law (called the CARES Act) will give money to most adults in the United States. The money will be sent to your home or deposited in your bank account. Some people who have not filed a tax return will need to file a tax return to get the money. Learn more about the economic impact / stimulus payments.

Vermont courts are postponing many court hearings through April 15

Some hearings may be done over the phone. 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. This might be a new action (such as an eviction action) or a motion in a court action that has already been filed. 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 are submitting 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 access 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.

Evictions

If you are in the eviction process and you have a hearing scheduled before April 16, your hearing may have been postponed. Call your courthouse to confirm.

If you have been ordered to pay rent into court, you need to keep making these payments. Vermont courts are severely limiting who enters their buildings beyond the lobby. Call your courthouse and ask how they would like to get your rent-into-court payment (by mail or in a dropbox in the lobby, for example).

If you get a Writ of Possession, contact us right away to ask for help

While many in-court appearances are postponed, it is still possible for a landlord to file a Complaint to start the eviction process. If that happens, you still have to respond by filing an Answer within 21 days. Filing deadlines are still in effect. Learn more in the Evictions pages of our website.

No evictions for nonpayment of rent in certain housing programs 

The new federal CARES Act includes a 120-day ban on new nonpayment evictions from properties that participate in federally subsidized housing programs. This includes Section 8, public housing, or housing for seniors or people with disabilities; the rural housing voucher program; and properties with federally backed mortgage loans. A full list of covered programs is on the National Housing Law Project website. The new law does not ban for-cause evictions (example: you broke housing rules) or no-cause evictions. The law bans evictions for nonpayment of rent started between March 27 and July 25, 2020.

If you get a notice that your landlord is evicting you and you do not know whether the law protects you, contact us for advice.

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, which 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.

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 is effective immediately through April 30. 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 provides 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

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 April 17.

If you want 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.

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

Learn about unemployment benefits in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Paid leave from work

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

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:

  • They 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. 
  • Where possible, they are suspending processing and collection of overpayments.
  • They are not conducting organization or individual representative payee accountings.
  • They are not processing third party-requests for information, except from appointed representatives and representative payees.

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 April 16, the debt collection hearing is canceled and will be rescheduled. The courts may decide later to postpone hearings now scheduled after April 15, too. Check the Vermont Judiciary website.

If you have received a Summons and Complaint, you still 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; 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

Federal student loans

The federal CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. It provides help for some federal student loan borrowers:

  • It provides relief for federal Direct Loans and federally held FFEL (Federal Family Education Loan Program) loans.
  • If your loans are covered by the new law, you will get notice in the next 15 days (from March 27, 2020).
  • Your Direct Loan and covered FFEL payments will be suspended until September 30, 2020.
  • While your payments are suspended, the interest rate on your covered loans will be 0%.
  • Suspended loan payments will be treated as if the payment was made for purposes of loan forgiveness and loan rehabilitation.
  • There will be no negative credit reporting on your loan accounts while your payments are suspended.
  • For Direct Loans and federally held FFEL loans already in default, all collection activity will be suspended. This means your wages will not be garnished, taxes will not be offset, and benefits will not be offset.

For more information, see the Student Loan Borrower Assistance website.

Bankruptcy hearings

If you are in the bankruptcy process and you have a hearing scheduled, it will not be held in person. It may be held over the phone. Follow this link to learn more about bankruptcy court and federal court changes.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: If you, as a debtor, file Local Form CV-1 by 10 a.m. on the day before your scheduled confirmation hearing, you will be excused from appearing at the confirmation hearing. This is being implemented on a temporary basis in response to the coronavirus.

Scams

Beware! Learn how scammers have already 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?

Special education

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

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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Source URL: https://vtlawhelp.org/coronavirus-updates

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