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Vermont Legislature extends emergency housing, overrides state budget veto

 People sit at wooden desks inside the Vermont House chamber
Lia Chien
Vermont Public
House lawmakers participate in the veto session Tuesday, June 20, 2023.

The Vermont Legislature overrode Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of the state budget on Tuesday, but only after making substantial concessions to a coalition of Democratic lawmakers that had vowed to block enactment of the spending plan unless leadership extended a pandemic-era motel housing program.  

Democrats hold 104 seats in the House of Representatives, which is more than the two-thirds majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto. But about a dozen Democratic lawmakers formed a bloc that gave them significant leverage over the fate of an emergency motel housing program that currently provides shelter for about 1,200 low-income households.  

Democrats including Westminster Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun said they wouldn’t take a vote to enact a budget if leadership didn’t extend the program.  

“What I know is exiting people without a place to go is wrong for people, and it’s wrong for communities. We just can’t do that,” Bos-Lun told Vermont Public last week. “We need to find a way to provide a more compassionate and just transition out of the … housing program.”  

More from the veto session: Vermont child care funding boost, payroll tax become law as Legislature overrides governor's veto

With the end of the fiscal year rapidly approaching, and the urgency to get a budget in place intensifying, House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Phil Baruth fashioned legislation that they hoped would address their fellow Democrats’ concerns. And a bill approved by the House and Senate Tuesday would effectively preserve eligibility for all households currently in the motel program until they find alternative living situations.  

How the housing bill works

The bill will not retroactively re-enroll the 760 households that were exited from the motel voucher program earlier this month. But Montpelier Rep. Conor Casey, one of the Democratic holdouts, said the legislation was enough to win his support for an override.  

“Politics is the art of the compromise,” Casey said Tuesday. “I really am grateful that legislative leadership listened to some of the concerns we brought forward and we’re going on a more humane path, I think, to address this crisis.”  

The legislation also has the support of the Republican governor, who until recently said he opposed yet another extension of the motel program. Asked the about the apparent reversal Tuesday, Scott’s spokesperson Jason Maulucci, said the governor views the new legislation as “less as an extension and more as a pathway for transitions.”  

“So it gives us time to help people take the next step in transition and ensure that folks in this more vulnerable population have somewhere to go,” Maulucci said.  

 A woman holds a wooden gavel in her right hand
Lia Chien
Vermont Public
Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski holds the gavel during a veto session of the House of Representatives on June 20, 2023.

It’s unclear how much the extension of the motel program will cost. Lawmakers have given the Scott administration the flexibility to draw from a number of reserves if expenditures exceed allocations in the existing budget.

The legislation includes also increases legislative oversight of the motel program, directing the administration to provide monthly reports on the number of households who have found alternative housing and barriers to housing for those who remain in motels.  

Maulucci said the governor looks forward to collaborating with lawmakers on the transition.  

“A lot of the information that the Legislature is requesting are things that we’ve been asking the Agency to produce,” Maulucci said. “We’re happy with the accountability that’s being offered in this bill, because it’s what we’ve been asking for as well. And we think it’ll be helpful to get the data as to where some of these people need to be.”  

'Not perfect'

The compromise that cleared the way for the budget override has not ameliorated everyone’s concerns about the future of the motel housing program.  

All five Progressive lawmakers in the House voted against the veto override because they say the latest maneuver will still result in “trauma” to the state’s unhoused population.  

“It fails to support a just transition from emergency assistance to housing for all. And hundreds of people have already been impacted, and we’re just beginning to see the harm,” said Burlington Rep. Brian Cina. “It seems to me on the state and federal level, that the government has declared war on poor people instead of deciding to end poverty. And I can’t be complicit in this harm.”  

A photo of a sign reading the hilltop inn next to a vine-covered metal fence
Elodie Reed
The Hilltop Inn in Berlin was among the motels providing emergency housing to Vermonters during the pandemic.

The approximately 1,200 households that remain in motel housing are families with children, people with disabilities and people over the age of 62.  

But housing advocate and former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Brenda Siegel said Tuesday that scores of motel residents that were forced to leave their rooms earlier this month also suffered severe medical ailments.  

“Many of them have health conditions. We know someone has a collapsed lung. We know someone is an amputee with an open wound. Many people have just had surgery, and there’s lots of people who need refrigerated medication or devices that need to be plugged in,” Siegel said.  

Any resolution that doesn’t restore motel eligibility for those individuals, Siegel said, doesn’t meet the requirements for a humane transition.  

The legislation also limits indefinite eligibility to the 1,200 households that are currently in motels now. Siegel said that could have grave consequences for individuals and households who lose housing after June 30.  

“So people will enter homelessness and we will still have children on the street. We will still have people with disabilities and medical vulnerabilities on the street,” she said. “We’re not really solving the problem. Instead of pushing 3,000 people off the cliff, we’re pushing them five at a time.”  

 A woman stands and reads from a printed document in the House of Representatives chamber
Lia Chien
Vermont Public
Waterbury Rep. Theresa Wood, a Democrat, speaks during debate in the House of Representatives on June 20, 2023.

Waterbury Rep. Theresa Wood, the Democratic chair of the House Committee on Human Services, hailed the legislation as setting a “new course” for how Vermont deals with its homelessness crisis.  

Wood said the state previously treated the general assistance housing program as a “financial benefit” akin to food stamps or social security. The new bill, she said, establishes “individualized” service component that will help the state address the range of needs that unhoused people require.  

“We know that households who find themselves facing homelessness often have complex needs that would benefit from a more formalized program. Today, with this [bill], we start to see this change,” Wood said. “I want to be clear. This [bill] is not perfect. But it does move us forward for different expectations of the general assistance housing benefit going forward. And it does reduce harm.”  

The legislation authorizes the Agency of Human Services to hire temporary employees, and contract with community providers, to provide those services.  

The bill also directs the entity that spearheads publicly financed affordable housing construction — the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board — to double the number of new affordable units that are set aside for people existing homelessness, from 15% to 30%.  

“I want to stress that homelessness is a traumatic experience. It’s stressful and it has a lasting impact on the individuals involved,” Wood said. “The efforts in this [bill] set the stage not only for the households [in motels right now], but for the future of how we address homelessness in Vermont.”  

Budget details

Scott’s decision to veto the state budget stemmed from his concerns about the rate at which it increases spending, and the manner in which Democrats sought to fund those expenditures.  

Lawmakers’ budget includes a new payroll tax to fund child care subsidies, and $20 million in fee increases at the Department of Motor Vehicles for things like vehicle registrations and license renewals.  

“I cannot support a budget that relies on new and regressive taxes and fees, combined with the overall increase in base spending that is far beyond our ability to sustain, especially because there is a way to achieve our shared policy goals without them,” Scott said. “The risk to Vermonters is too great. Vermonters have elected and reelected me, in part, to provide balance and fiscal responsibility in Montpelier and I will follow through on that mandate.”  

Scott had supporters on Tuesday, including Republican Barre Town Rep. Gina Galfetti.  

“This budget is fiscally irresponsible, and sets Vermont on a track to financial ruin,” Galfetti said. “Vermonters will be forced to pay up at a time they can little afford to carry this expanded spending model.”  

With Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate, however, Scott’s ability to deliver on his self-described “mandate” to “provide balance” appears to be diminishing.  

The House overrode his budget veto by a vote of 105-42. In the Senate, the override sailed by a count of 25-5.  

Caledonia County Sen. Jane Kitchel, the Democratic chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said the Legislature’s spending plan reflects the needs of a state government that Vermonters rely on for critical services.  
“What was not in the governor’s budget was really a recognition of the cost of providing services to thousands of Vermonters through community-based organizations, and that was a priority for us,” Kitchel told Vermont Public.  
In a high-inflation environment exacerbated by workforce challenges, she said, mental health agencies, adult day programs, senior nutrition programs and other critical pieces of human-services infrastructure need funding increases just to maintain current service levels. And Kitchel said many of those organizations are seeing increases in demand.  

“Yes there is a difference in terms of the governor’s base spending and what the legislature did,” she said. “But to a large extent, that was driven by the fact that we felt we needed to recognize the cost of providing those services and increased reimbursement to those providers.”  

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or reach out to 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.
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