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After outcry, Scott administration partially extends emergency rental assistance program

Vermont's lowest-income families could see emergency rental assistance extended through April after a Scott administration official told lawmakers the Agency of Human Services had found $20 million to send to the program, which was set to shut down in December.

The Scott administration on Wednesday said it will be able to partially extend a rental assistance program that was set to end for most households starting in December.

The administration announced last month that more than 8,000 households would lose their rental assistance benefits just as winter arrived.

They said the state had exhausted most of its share of federal Emergency Rental Assistance program funds more quickly than anticipated. In order to preserve remaining funds for the very lowest-income Vermonters, the majority of the approximately 12,000 households currently receiving benefits would see assistance expire by Dec. 1.

More from Vermont Public: Scott administration announces abrupt halt in rental assistance for more than 8,000 Vermont households

But on Wednesday, Douglas Farnham, deputy secretary of administration, told lawmakers the Agency of Human Services has found an additional $20 million to put toward the program.

“AHS is going to begin engaging with community partners with a focus on how can we best deploy those additional funds in the context of ramping down through the winter, how do we protect our most vulnerable through this winter," Farnham said.

He told lawmakers the money won’t be enough to preserve benefits for everyone, but he said the lowest-income families could see their benefits extended through April.

Some housing advocates say the new funds are merely a band-aid fix for a much larger problem.

Deacon Beth Ann Maier, a member of the Vermont Interfaith Action statewide organizing committee on housing and homelessness, has been pushing lawmakers and the Scott administration to come up with bolder solutions.

"They don't have a sustainable plan," Maier said. "They're essentially doing the same thing they've been doing for the last two-and-a-half years, which is throwing whatever money they can find at the problem. But the housing crisis is going to be there until our stock of housing rises to meet the need."

Maier emphasized the need for more short-term temporary housing units and longer-term affordable housing projects.

"I think [the Scott administration] needs to do something braver than find new money and throw it at the problem," she said.

Rick D’Angeles, co-executive director of Good Samaritan Haven, which runs shelters in Berlin, Barre, and Barre Town, said the additional funding is “great," but he added that more support is needed.

Today on Vermont Edition, D’Angeles said that all the shelters his organization runs are currently full.

“Part of the problem, from our perspective, is that there wasn’t any consultation at all with the people in the field when the first announcement was made [about VERAP winding down],” D’Angeles said. “Twenty million isn’t going to solve the problem. So it’ll have to be prioritized in some way. I hope that they will work with the service providers to determine how it’s going to be allocated.”

Farnham told lawmakers the administration does intend to work with housing advocates to determine how best to distribute the funds.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld:

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
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