News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 4, 2019

PRESS CONTACT: Barb Prine, Staff Attorney, Vermont Legal Aid
(802) 863-5620 x254

 

MONTPELIER, VT – The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted yesterday to approve a new rule on Gender Affirming Surgery for the Treatment of Gender Dysphoria. Vermont Legal Aid testified in support of this rule, which clarifies access to medically necessary surgery for the treatment of gender dysphoria. The new rule also removes excessive barriers to treatment for transgender and gender non-conforming Medicaid beneficiaries in Vermont.

“This vote is a victory for Medicaid beneficiaries and all Vermonters,” said Barb Prine, a Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney. She added: “It is the result of years of hard work and collaboration with clients, medical providers, Medicaid experts, and community leaders.” Vermont Legal Aid has represented transgender Vermonters seeking Medicaid coverage for gender affirming surgery since 1995.

The Office of the Health Care Advocate at Vermont Legal Aid is available for all Vermonters who need help accessing medical care. “If you have questions about access to gender affirming surgery or other access to health care issues, contact our HelpLine at 1-800-917-7787,” said Amelia Schlossberg, Communications Coordinator for the Office of the Health Care Advocate.

The Office of the Health Care Advocate (HCA) is a project of Vermont Legal Aid. The HCA provides free help to all Vermonters with questions or problems with health insurance or access to health care. The HCA works to improve Vermonters’ access to quality affordable health care through individual and systemic advocacy.

Vermont Legal Aid (VLA) is a non-profit law firm that provides legal advice and services to individuals and families throughout Vermont who are facing a civil legal problem that threatens their rights, shelter, job, health, or well-being. VLA began serving clients in 1968.

Take our survey about the civil legal problems that face low-income and vulnerable Vermonters.

Legal Services Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid want to meet with you. The nonprofit law firms want to know more about the civil legal problems facing low-income and vulnerable Vermonters. They are holding seven meetings around the state to hear from Vermonters, their community partners and supporters. 

“We want to hear from as wide a cross section of Vermonters as possible. Everyone is encouraged to participate in this process,” said Sam Abel-Palmer, Executive Director of Legal Services Vermont.

“Civil” legal problems are any legal issues that are not criminal in nature. However, the organizations do help with the legal problems of crime victims. Also, the organizations help people with expunging and sealing past criminal records.

Staff from Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont will be at the public meetings. They will use the information gathered to help decide where to put their legal aid resources. It’s part of a statewide legal needs assessment process the organizations will use to provide civil legal help where it’s needed most. The organizations work together to help thousands of Vermonters around the state each year.

Here’s the schedule of public meetings. No registration is needed and light refreshments will be provided.

 

NEWPORT

Wednesday, October 23, 1:00-2:30 p.m.

Goodrich Library, 202 Main St., Newport

 

ST. ALBANS

Monday, October 28, 1:00-2:30 p.m.

Community College of Vermont (CCV), 142 S. Main St., St. Albans

 

BENNINGTON

Wednesday, October 30, 1:00-2:30 p.m.

Community College of Vermont (CCV), Room 152, 324 Main St., Bennington

 

RUTLAND

Wednesday, October 30, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

Community College of Vermont (CCV), Room 102, 60 West St., Rutland

 

BRATTLEBORO

Monday, November 4, 1:00-2:30 p.m.

Community College of Vermont (CCV), Room 271, 41 Harmony Place, Brattleboro          

 

MONTPELIER

Tuesday, November 5, 2:00-3:30 p.m.

Bethany UCC Church, 115 Main St., Montpelier

 

BURLINGTON

Tuesday, November 5, 7:00-8:30 p.m.

Legal Services Vermont, 274 N. Winooski Ave., Burlington

 

Please note: Visitors to Community College of Vermont should stop at the main desk for a visitor’s badge.

We are holding the Guen Gifford Advocate Training on Wednesday, October 23, 2019, at the Barre Civic Center. Learn more!

Unless it is blocked by the courts, the United States government will change how it makes “public charge” decisions starting October 15, 2019. “Public charge” or the “public charge test” is used by immigration officials to decide whether a person can enter the United States or get a green card. Learn some important facts on our legal help website

The Housing Discrimination Law Project (HDLP) at Vermont Legal Aid works to stop housing discrimination and to protect Vermonters' right to choose where they live. The project recently updated its brochures in English and eight other languages. Staff also produced short videos in English and five other languages. Funding for the videos came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Follow this link to see them.

Vermont Health Connect Insurance Companies Ask to Raise Premium Prices;
Vermont Legal Aid’s Health Care Advocate Encourages Public Comments

Press Release / May 13, 2019 - updated June 17, 2019

Contact: Mike Fisher, Chief Health Care Advocate
Vermont Legal Aid
mfisher@vtlegalaid.org
802-989-9806

MONTPELIER, VT – Today, the Green Mountain Care Board started considering whether to raise health insurance premium prices for individual and small employer plans including Vermont Health Connect plans. These plans cover nearly 80,000 Vermonters.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont asked to raise next year’s premium prices by 15.6%, on average. MVP Health Care asked to raise premium prices by 8.5% on average. The price increases vary by plan.

The Green Mountain Care Board must consider public comments when deciding the 2020 premium prices. You can tell the board what you think of the proposed prices. Visit our webpage on How the Public Can Participate (www.vtlawhelp.org/how-public-can-participate-0) to learn how to give public comments to the board. Your comments will be part of the public record.

“The Board will hear from insurance executives, actuaries and lawyers; they need to hear from you too,” said Mike Fisher, Vermont’s Chief Health Care Advocate. “Last year, 197 Vermonters submitted public comments for the Vermont Health Connect premium review process and the Green Mountain Care Board referred to these comments in their decision. We’re glad to help Vermonters understand the process, so everyone has a voice.”

The public comment period for these plans ends in late July.

Vermonters with premium subsidies may pay more or less next year. For these Vermonters, changes to how much they have to pay are mostly based on income, family size and which plan they choose during the next open enrollment.

If you have questions about your health insurance, health care access, or about how you can give a public comment, contact the Office of the Health Care Advocate at 1-800-917-7787.

The Office of the Health Care Advocate (HCA) is a project of Vermont Legal Aid. The HCA provides free help to all Vermonters with questions or problems with health insurance or access to health care. The HCA works to improve Vermonters’ access to quality affordable health care through individual and systemic advocacy.

Vermont Legal Aid (VLA) is a non-profit law firm that provides legal advice and services to individuals and families throughout Vermont who are facing a civil legal problem that threatens their rights, shelter, job, health, or well-being. VLA began serving clients in 1968.

Vermont Legal Aid is holding free Advance Planning Workshops around the state. Seniors who qualify can meet with a lawyer and complete a simple will, a financial power of attorney and a medical advance directive. These are three important documents used for looking ahead and planning for the future.

To qualify for these workshops, you must be 60 years old or older and you must be a Vermont resident. There are also some income and asset restrictions.

Visit our legal help website to learn more about these free advance planning events.

In Vermont, approximately 1,700 eviction cases are filed every year. The number one cause of eviction is falling behind on rent. In most cases, families lose their housing, leading to increased rates of homelessness, unemployment, mental and physical illness, and financial and housing instability.

On January 16, 2019, Vermont Legal Aid released a report, Eviction in Vermont: A Closer Look, examining the problem and calling for policy solutions to reduce evictions and the deepening poverty caused by them.

This report marks the most comprehensive attempt to date to study evictions in Vermont. Its key findings are as follows:

One in 44 (2.25%) renting households had an eviction filed against them in 2016. In 70% of the cases, unpaid rent was the only issue (as opposed to violating the lease or evicting “without cause”). In cases where unpaid rent caused the eviction, the median amount of rent due was $2,000. In three-quarters of the cases, the plaintiff (landlord) had a lawyer, and the defendant (tenant) did not. Three-quarters of households that had an eviction filed against them were evicted.

In the report, the voices of tenants explain how eviction is a kind of accelerant for poverty: it comes out of poverty, and it creates even more. Research has shown that even a year after eviction, parents and children are more likely to suffer from depression, stress, and negative health outcomes than their non-evicted peers. Eviction can significantly damage a tenant’s subsequent employment, housing and credit prospects.

For landlords, evictions reflect a loss in rental income, lost time in court, and a financial cost for court and attorney fees. Evictions also cost Vermont taxpayers resources through additional burden on the court system and, when an eviction leads to homelessness, through funds needed for emergency housing and shelters. Taking a more proactive approach to prevent evictions would save money for landlords and taxpayers.

The report recommends the following policy changes to address this issue:

When a tenant falls behind on rent, provide adequate financial supports to help tenants who can maintain the tenancy long-term come current and avoid eviction. We estimate that an annual amount of $800,000 strategically invested in back rent support could cut Vermont’s eviction rate by over 50%. Once a case is filed, increase legal representation of defendants in eviction cases or make it easier for defendants to capably represent themselves. Expand and develop programs to help tenants manage their rental payments. Reduce the number of tenants who fall behind on rent by addressing the broader housing affordability crisis.

“Taken together, we believe that these recommendations would reduce Vermont’s rate of evictions and homelessness and prevent the hardships that occur for both landlords and tenants when a tenancy is terminated,” said Vermont Legal Aid Staff Attorney Jessica Radbord, who is one of the authors of the report. Follow this link to download the full report and recommendations.

Do you live in the Northeast Kingdom?

Each month, Vermont Legal Aid attorney Kelli Kazmarski is available in Newport, Vt., to discuss your legal questions about housing, divorce, custody, debt collection and more. The free legal clinic at the Orleans County Restorative Justice Center is usually held on the first Wednesday of the month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Because of the holidays, January’s clinic will be January 9th. The February clinic is scheduled for February 6th.

The Restorative Justice Center is located at 79 Coventry Street in Newport – next to the post office. Call Restorative Justice to make an appointment at 802-487-9327. Appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The clinics are a way for people to sit face-to-face and talk with someone about their issues,” Kazmarski says. “I have had people come in with problems ranging from debt collection to wills, and from family law matters to benefits issues. I think people in the community really enjoy this service.”

Kazmarski is also part of a rotating roster of volunteer lawyers who do free legal clinics in St. Johnsbury, Vt. These are usually held on the first Monday of each month from 6 - 8 p.m. the Community Restorative Justice Center. An appointment is recommended. Call 802-748-2977.

Old criminal records prevent many Vermonters from obtaining jobs, housing or educational opportunities.

If you have a past criminal conviction, or a charge that has been dismissed, you may want to figure out whether you can “expunge” your criminal record. Through the expungement process, the State of Vermont allows for specific convictions and dismissed charges to be wiped from your record after a certain amount of time has passed. There are a couple of different sealing or expungement laws, and the requirements are a bit different for each.

See our web page about Sealing or Expunging Your Criminal Record in Vermont for information on this topic, free expungement clinics, and how to reach us for help.

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