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Court Upholds Benefit Cuts to Low-Income Disabled Families, Dismisses Lawsuit

Posted November 12, 2015

A federal district court judge dismissed a class action lawsuit brought by low-income parents with disabilities late Monday afternoon. Judge Willliam K. Sessions, III found that a new law reducing public assistance to families with disabled parents receiving Supplemental Security Income is constitutional and violated no federal law. The ruling means that affected families receiving Reach Up benefits will face monthly reductions up to $125 starting as soon as December 1st. Vermont Legal Aid brought the lawsuit on behalf of affected families arguing the cuts violated their due process and equal protection rights and other federal laws. Legal Aid has widely criticized the new law calling it a “poor tax” targeting Vermonters who cannot afford a significant loss of monthly income.

Judge William K. Sessions III agreed with the plaintiffs that the law targets poor Vermonters. “The law at issue in this case targets one of the most vulnerable populations in Vermont: disabled adults raising children in poverty. In an effort to achieve budgetary savings the Legislature has voted to decrease public aid to those families, resulting in what can only be further hardship for parents as they struggle to provide food and shelter for their children,” he wrote in conclusion.

In the end, however, the court agreed with the state that notices sent to affected families were sufficient and that the legislative process provided all the process that was due. The court found no intent to discriminate against Vermonters with disabilities because the targeted reduction was for budgetary reasons and the state had a rational basis – budget savings – on which to change the law. As a result, the Judge dismissed the case.

Vermont Legal Aid had argued that because SSI recipients are excluded from the Reach Up program altogether their income should not be counted to reduce Reach Up grants. Other states that consider SSI include recipients as part of the assistance group. “We’re obviously disappointed with the decision because of the disastrous impact these cuts will have on very low-income Vermonters with disabilities and their families who rely on temporary public assistance,” said Christopher Curtis, of Vermont Legal Aid who brought the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. “What we learned is that the new law is not unconstitutional; it is merely unconscionable,” he said.

Curtis said that he hoped lawmakers would consider repealing the cuts when the legislature reconvenes in January. “These cuts act as a kind of ‘poor tax’ on those who can least afford it,” he said. “If lawmakers truly believe that Vermonters cannot afford any new taxes they should repeal this one,” said Curtis. “It’s an especially cruel irony that the state currently enjoys a $4 million surplus – an amount that more than covers this cut targeting the most vulnerable Vermonters,” said Curtis. He said that families suffering from the effects of the benefit cut should contact their local legislators and ask them to repeal the cut to the Reach Up program.

Cuts to the Reach Up program were originally set to go into effect in August but were delayed by agreement of the parties to allow Judge Sessions time to consider the case. “We do want to acknowledge the Secretary (Cohen) and the Commissioner (Schatz) for their agreement to continue benefits while the case was pending,” said Curtis.

For a link to the full press release, click here.

 



Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Law Line of Vermont Survey

Posted October 1, 2014

Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Law Line of Vermont want to learn more about the legal problems you think people in Vermont need help with. Please help by answering this short survey. They are looking to hear from as many Vermonters as possible, so please forward the survey widely throughout your communities. Your answers may help a neighbor, a friend or maybe even yourself one day. The survey is located here.

VLA-LL-logo-combo-3

 



Report Released on Rental Housing Discrimination in Vermont

Posted June 25, 2014

new report by Vermont Legal Aid shows that discrimination was evident in nearly half of the test cases.

Rachel Batterson will be on tomorrow’s Vermont Edition at noon with Angela Zaikowski of the Vermont Apartment Owners Association, and Ted Wimpey, Fair Housing Project Director for Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and Chair of VAHC, to discuss the report and the steps needed to be taken to reduce rental discrimination in the state.

The report finds high rates of discrimination in the rental housing market based on race, color, national origin, disability, and minor children. The results show an aggregate rate of discrimination of 44 percent, with rates of discrimination of 46 percent on national origin; 36 percent on race/color; 45 percent on minor children; and 22 percent based on disability.  

Ten accessibility audits conducted on multi-family housing built within two years of the tests also find that 80 percent had some level of noncompliance with 1991 FHA design and construction accessibility requirements.

Yesterday on Channel 17 Tom Garrett, Executive Director of Law Line of Vermont, also spoke with Rachel Batterson, Project Director of the Housing Discrimination Law Project at Vermont Legal Aid, and Karen Richards, Executive Director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission on the recently released report. Watch online.

 



Vermont Law Help Provides Legal, Health Care Resources for Vermonters

Posted November 21, 2013

Recently Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line of Vermont launched a redesigned, easy-to-use website, Vermont Law Help, that provides up-to-date guidance on health care access, health insurance issues, and other civil legal issues.  Vermont Legal Aid has more on the new website:

One of the goals of Vermont Law Help is to inform and empower Vermonters to help themselves, find resources they can use, and know where legal services are available. Guided interviews show visitors how to complete common court documents, and form letters help them address specific problems.

Vermont Law Help has resources for Vermonters with family problems involving separation, divorce and abuse; housing issues, including landlord and tenant problems, foreclosure, and discrimination; health care questions and issues related to health care reform, insurance, access to services, denials and appeals, billing, and complaints; money and debt problems including bankruptcy, credit and credit reports, public benefits, repossession, and taxes; and more, including information specifically for seniors and people with disabilities.

Vermont Law Help has a powerful search function and simple navigation to help users find relevant information fast. Google Translate buttons quickly translate the website into seven languages that are prevalent in Vermont, and the text size can be easily adjusted by Vermonters with vision challenges. The new design offers a vastly improved reading and navigation experience for smart phone users.

Visit Vermont Law Help at vtlawhelp.org.

 



Guen Gifford Advocate Training – Register Today!

Posted May 2, 2013

Vermont Legal Aid, Inc. and Legal Services Law Line of Vermont are pleased to announce the Guen Gifford Advocate Training. New seminar topics include: Health Care Reform and Rights of at risk Children and Youth & Foreclosure. Some returning favorites include Housing 101 and Benefit Overpayments.  The Keynote speakers will be Justice Beth Robinson, Vermont Supreme Court and Chris Curtis, Vermont Legal Aid Staff Attorney!

Where: Vermont Law School, South Royalton, Vermont
When: May 31, 2013/8:30am – 4:00pm
Cost: $40 *Cost includes continental breakfast, lunch, and materials.

The Registration Deadline is May 15, 2013. Please register early! Space is limited to 100 participants and assigned on a first come, first served basis!

If you have any questions or problems accessing the materials, contact the Office Manager at 1-800-639-8857.

 



Times Argus – Welfare cap debate: ‘Unable’ or ‘unwilling’?

Posted April 1, 2013

By Peter Hirschfeld. Reposted from the Barre Montpelier Times Argus, March 30, 2013.

“MONTPELIER — The battle in Montpelier over whether to impose a five-year lifetime cap on welfare benefits peaked this week when House lawmakers gave final approval to a budget that includes the new limits.


But the House proposal has drawn fire from both sides on this controversial issue. And while welfare-reform advocates say the House version doesn’t go far enough, advocates for low-income Vermonters say it will exact an undue toll on poor people.

..”

Link to full Times Argus article 

View PDF of full Times Argus article

 

 



Advocates speak out against proposed time limits on Reach Up

Posted February 15, 2013

Governor Shumlin’s proposal to place a five-year cap on Reach Up benefits for low-income individuals spurred Vermonters to speak out and advocate for alternative solutions.

For Valentine’s Day, Advocates Declare: “Have a Heart – Save Reach up”
Press Release

VPR News:
Advocates Decry Cuts To Vt. Reach Up Program

The Burlington Free Press:
Progressives and Democrats offer alternatives to governor’s money raising plan
PDF of full Burlington Free Press article 

VTDigger.org
Reach Up participants say governor’s plan to curb welfare program is misguided
PDF of Full VTDigger.org article  

 

 

 



SAVE THE DATE: Guen Gifford Advocate Training

Posted February 12, 2013

Vermont Legal Aid, Inc. and Legal Services Law Line of Vermont are pleased to announce the Guen Gifford Advocate Training. New seminar topics include: Health Care Reform and Rights of at risk Children and Youth & Foreclosure. Some returning favorites include Housing 101 and Benefit Overpayments.  The Keynote speakers will be Justice Beth Robinson, Vermont Supreme Court and Chris Curtis, Vermont Legal Aid Staff Attorney! 

Where: Vermont Law School, South Royalton, Vermont
When: May 31, 2013/8:30am – 4:00pm
Cost: $40 *Cost includes continental breakfast, lunch, and materials.

The Registration Deadline is May 15, 2013. Please register early! Space is limited to 100 participants and assigned on a first come, first served basis! 

If you have any questions or problems accessing the materials, contact our Office Manager at 1-800-639-8857.