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Yesterday’s verdict did not bring justice for all the Black and Brown lives that have been lost due to police violence and systemic racism. However, it is cause for hope that, thanks to the courage of the Floyd family, the fortitude of the jurors, the skill and dedication of the team of attorneys assembled by Attorney General Ellison, and the persistence of all those who have raised their voices in protest in the streets, we may have taken a first step toward greater accountability in our policing practices, and that we can through continued efforts, in the words of Amanda Gorman, “rebuild, reconcile and recover.” With this hope in mind, we at Vermont Legal Aid re-dedicate ourselves today to calling out racism when we see it — in our country, in our state, and in our own organization — and to dismantling white supremacy in Vermont.

In posting the statement from the VT APIDA for Black Lives Group, Vermont Legal Aid humbly acknowledges that we are among those who are called out and called upon to act by it. We accept that we have been too quiet and too slow to act and vow to change. We see you; we hear you; you are vital members of our communities, and we will not ignore what has been happening.

We denounce the attacks, hate crimes, and murders against the Asian American community. As members of a law firm, we acknowledge with some shame the hesitancy of lawyers and members of the legal community around the country to call the Atlanta killings a hate crime. We vow to call out racism when we see it: in our country, in our state, and in our own organization.

We publicly announce our support for H.397, H. 245, H.428, H. 320, H.329, and H.210 and commit ourselves and our organization to dismantling white supremacy in Vermont.

Letter from members of the VT APIDA for Black Lives Group Dear Governor Scott, Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, Congressman Welch, Mayors, Friends, Colleagues:   Members of our Asian American community are dying. In Atlanta, a white man walked into three spas and murdered eight people. The victims were ambitious business owners, dedicated and hard-working mothers, newlyweds and best friends remembered for being shy and unfailingly loving. Their names are: Hyun Jung Grant Soon C.Park Suncha Kim Daoyou Feng Yong A. Yue Delaina Ashley Yaun Paul Andre Michels Xiaojie Tan. Since the beginning of this global pandemic that has ravaged our nation and disproportionately targeted the BIPOC community, fear has turned into hostility, hate, violence, and murder. The killing of these eight people come on the heels of the stabbing of an Asian family in Texas that included their two and six-year-old: the consecutive murders of three elderly Asian American men, 75, 84, and 91 years old, in broad daylight. This also includes the recent unprovoked assault on 75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie who beat her attacker in the streets in self-defense but, despite successfully defending herself, is so traumatized by the randomness of the assault she is now afraid to leave her home. We have had to call our siblings, parents and grandparents and tell them to stay home, stay quiet, stay alive.   Did you know that since the pandemic, there have been 3,795 bias incidents reported in the U.S., representing hundred-fold rises in violent incidents against Asian Americans? In the last twenty years, Asians have been the fastest growing targets of hate crimes. Discriminatory acts are also happening here in Vermont. We are being accosted in local stores, hearing racial epithets hurled at our children at sporting events, being targeted in the lobbies and private offices of hospitals and clinics, being told to go back to our country. It is incumbent upon you to protect us.   There is an illusion that as Asian Americans, we do not experience discrimination, that we have never lived in poverty or been the subject of violence or police profiling. We are a community made up of different cultures, languages, countries of origin, and different generations of Americans, but to many of you, we are the same: “Chinese,” “foreigner,” “un-American,” “New[1]American,” “Non-English speaking.” Our names immediately oust us in our applications for housing and employment. In Vermont, Asian American women make only 67 cents on the dollar earned by white men, amounting to a lifetime loss of more than $700,000. That loss has had an impact on our ability to invest, purchase land, choose the right schools for our children and plan for their futures. Most of these disparities go largely ignored. We are invisible although we are here. We have been here.   Our present-day experiences are not different from the historical experiences of our ancestors in this country. It has just taken on a different form. Then, it was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; today, it is the mass deportation of South East Asians, many of whom arrived here lawfully as refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, we were denied the right to purchase land, to citizenship, to testify in court; today, we are denied admissions into schools, leadership positions and equal pay. Then, irrational fear and racism from WWII justified Japanese Internment Camps; today, irrational fear and racism from COVID-19 justify violence against our community. Then, white Southerners replaced slave labor with Chinese laborers, pitting the Black and Asian communities against one another; today, our communities fight for “scarce” resources and “limited” positions that are actually limitless for the majority. Again, we see members of our communities committing atrocities against one another.   In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, we strategically gathered to work towards ending this division and fight for our shared liberation. To this end, we created an affinity group called APIDA for Black Lives. We meet monthly to plan events and educate ourselves. This week, our conversation turned inwards. It was reflective and pained by silence: moments of silence for the deceased, the silence of our political leaders, friends and colleagues, the silence created when there is an absence of action after a promise or tweet. We breathed in that undisturbed air and let it quiet our brown and golden bodies temporarily. But that silence has since turned into anger.   If we are ever going to be free, we must dismantle white supremacy and all of the false narratives that come with it: that racism is a binary issue; that the existing laws that prohibit discrimination are adequate to address historical trauma and hundreds of years of discriminatory governmental actions; that discipline, policing and curriculum in our schools are objectively applied and delivered; and that white neutrality exists. Perhaps this last narrative by which the white person believes the absence of personal experience qualifies them to operate from the center of the line, is most dangerous because they are in fact, operating from the end. It is much easier for a BIPOC person to draw from personal experience and also easier for other BIPOC around them to call them in or out if those experiences are clouding their judgment. For the white person, the lack of experience with racial discrimination makes them unaware and unaccountable to themselves and to others. They must work that much harder to unlearn, to overcome, and ultimately to exercise judgment without regards to race and color. Yet “white-as-neutral” permeates every structure and system.   This might explain why the working interpretation of Atlanta police was that race was not the motive in the murder of eight people, most of whom were Asian and were working in spas that were owned and/or frequented by Asians. Their only basis for that contention is that the white man they arrested, completely unscathed, said he was not a racist. The benefit of the doubt and credibility we bestow on the white suspect and the ease by which we erase the identifies of the victims and ignore the larger context of these crimes is alarming.   While we are speaking up for Asian Americans now, we also stand with other communities of color. Until the playing field is level for all, humanity is held back from its full potential.   We call upon you, Governor Scott, Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, Congressman Welch, Mayors, our friends, and colleagues to not ignore what has been happening and to take the following actions:   1. Publicly denounce the attacks, hate crimes and murders against the Asian American community and promise that similar attacks here in Vermont will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. 2. When the victim of crime is a person of color, assume from the start that it is a hate crime until a full and through investigation proves otherwise. Ensure that every investigation at the law enforcement and prosecutorial level is reviewed and guided by a person of color. 3. Immediately issue an Executive Order that calls upon every Agency, Department, University, Employer to study and address equitable representation and equal pay on their boards, commissions, and positions of leadership.  4. Publicly support the following bills:

a. H.387, an act relating to establishing the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations for the Institution of Chattel Slavery.

b. H.245, an act relating to increasing the membership of and providing funding to the Vermont Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group.     

c. H.428, an act relating to hate-motivated crimes and misconduct.

d. H.320, an act relating to prohibiting agreements that prevent an employee from working for the employer following a settlement of a discrimination claim.

e. H.329, an act amending the prohibitions against discrimination

f. H.210, an act relating to addressing disparities and promoting equity in the health care system.

  In the fight towards shared liberation, we must remain steadfast even when we are tired, especially when we are tired. Perhaps it is then that we are drawing close.   Signed, Members of the VT APIDA for Black Lives Group

Vermont Legal Aid is advocating for an increase in Reach Up cash assistance to low-income Vermont families. Reach Up’s statutory purpose is to “improve the wellbeing of children by providing for their immediate basic needs,” but the program fails to achieve its purpose. Cash grants are so low — as attorney Jessica Radbord and her client Sandra Cross demonstrate in this budget exercise — that Vermont kids on the program are constantly at risk of hunger, homelessness and deprivation. Contact your legislator today to let them know that you support investing in Vermont kids by investing in Reach Up.

Watch the five-minute video on YouTube.

Researchers from Dartmouth College’s Center for Global Health Equity have documented the critical role of housing policy in Vermont’s COVID-19 response as part of its ongoing research on COVID-19 and rural health equity in northern New England.

The researchers from Dartmouth and attorneys at Vermont Legal Aid collaborated to create a legislative brief. It translates research findings on the impact of housing on health into actionable policy recommendations for Vermont’s leadership.

The brief summarizes early research findings in Vermont, reviews the academic literature on housing and health, and describes the opportunity to use housing interventions to address other population health challenges in the state, including the opioid epidemic.

Download “Housing is Health: Building on Vermont’s Pandemic Success to Advance Health Equity.”

 

Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont are posting updates on VTLawHelp.org in regards to the coronavirus crisis. See the updated information here: COVID-19 Coronavirus: Legal and Benefits Updates for Vermonters. Some translations are also available.

Vermont Legal Aid and the Center for Medicare Advocacy are pleased to announce the settlement of McKee v. Azar, a case that was brought in federal court to ensure proper coverage of home health care services for a Medicare beneficiary with multiple chronic conditions.

Ms. Mckee, a Vermont resident, required skilled nursing visits to assess and treat her serious medical conditions. Medicare denied coverage, concluding that her condition was “stable” and therefore did not require skilled care. This was erroneous under the standard clarified in the Jimmo v. Sebelius settlement. In her lawsuit, Ms. McKee challenged the notion that her supposedly “stable” condition meant that the care she received was not skilled. She argued that she was eligible for home health coverage based on skilled observation and assessment as well as patient education services. Ms. McKee was at risk for complications, and the knowledge and judgment of skilled nurses were key to identifying when she needed additional or modified care. In addition, Ms. McKee challenged Medicare’s failure to afford appropriate weight to the opinion of her treating physician about her need for skilled care.

Under the terms of a settlement agreement filed on July 21, 2020, Medicare agreed to pay Ms. McKee’s home health claim in full.

Advocates should continue to be alert for inappropriate denials of coverage based on lack of improvement or on “stability” – particularly for individuals with chronic conditions. Jimmo requires Medicare coverage determinations to be based on individuals’ need for skilled care, not on their potential for improvement or on their stability. Skilled nursing, or physical, occupational, or speech therapy may be required to maintain a person’s condition or to prevent or slow deterioration. For more information about Jimmo and the “Improvement Standard,” see the Center for Medicare Advocacy and CMS websites.

From the first moments of the COVID-19 emergency, Vermont Legal Aid has been quick to advocate for Vermonters by making requests to state officials and legislators — in addition to giving legal help to Vermonters.

Some recent work has included: Helping Vermonters access new financial assistance such as the Rental Housing Stabilization Program and the Vermont COVID Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program Successfully lobbying for a moratorium on utility shutoffs (electric, gas and landline phones) Pushing for a statewide moratorium on evictions Advocating for low-income and vulnerable Vermonters in the Vermont courts Tracking down Vermonters who were about to be removed from their homes during this health crisis and filing motions to postpone their writs of possession Lobbying for increases in food benefits for families having a harder time putting meals on the table Advising and representing those who are denied unemployment compensation Working to make health insurance more accessible to all by helping Vermonters take advantage of the special enrollment period on Vermont Health Connect, and focusing on decreasing the cost of COVID-19 related care Advocating to assure that Vermonters with intellectual and developmental disabilities have equal access to life-sustaining treatment and are not discriminated against based on their disability Promoting the rights of people getting long-term care services Advocating for rule changes that allow low-income and vulnerable people to continue to access benefits and services during the emergency order Making recommendations to protect the education rights of students with disabilities as remote education is implemented Identifying and communicating the most urgent needs within the Developmental Services system Advocating the use federal funds to promote fair, inclusive housing even during the crisis Advocating to assure that residents of Vermont’s residential care homes are able to stay safely in their homes throughout the pandemic Urging state housing policymakers to ensure housing stimulus money goes to the poorest and most vulnerable Vermonters Lobbying for coronavirus relief funds to help around 200 families fix or replace above-ground fuel tanks so they could get home heating fuel delivered this winter Advocating in the legislature for low-income and vulnerable people Advocating for pandemic funding to be devoted to the needs of low-income and vulnerable people Outreach and education about COVID-19 changes to the law and rules Summarizing new laws, rules, benefits, financial help and procedures on a dedicated COVID-19 page at https://vtlawhelp.org/coronavirus-updates Things are moving quickly and Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont are working hard to support the well-being of low-income and vulnerable Vermonters.   Vermont Legal Aid welcomes your support!

Vermont Legal Aid is hosting a series of virtual town halls on legal issues during the coronavirus crisis. You can attend online or by telephone.

Learn how to join in or watch past events by visiting our legal help website.

Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont are not seeing walk-in clients at this time. Please do not come to one of our offices. A sign will be posted saying our doors are locked and we are working remotely. Please use our helpline phone number or online form to ask us for help.  

(If you are a current client who made a specific appointment with one of our staff members, please confirm your appointment before coming.) 

Thank you for understanding as we follow recommendations from health officials and we work to lessen the impact of the coronavirus in our communities!

Press Release | February 25, 2020

Press Contacts: Sandra Paritz, Attorney, or
Rebecca Smith, Attorney        

MONTPELIER — A federal Court has ruled that tenants can bring claims against the City of St. Albans for unfairly removing them from their home after the landlord refused to make necessary repairs. Dwight Martell and Lynn Cook claimed that the City had abruptly shut off their water, electricity, and gas and ordered them out, making them homeless, all without having a legal basis for doing so.  They sued for violations of their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable seizure. The City moved to dismiss the tenants’ claims. On February 21, 2020, United States Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy denied the dismissal of tenants’ Fourteenth Amendment procedural Due Process claim and Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim; and granted dismissal of Tenants’ Fifth Amendment Takings Clause Claim. 

Rebecca Smith and Sandra Paritz of Vermont Legal Aid represent the tenants. “We filed this case because the City of St. Albans health inspectors forced low income and vulnerable tenants to immediately vacate their homes, not because there was an emergency, but because the landlord told the inspectors that he would not be making repairs to their building. In other words, instead of ordering the landlord to fix the problems, the city forced tenants into homelessness -- with no prior notice or opportunity to challenge their sudden eviction.” said Paritz. “Vulnerable tenants have very little power to enforce the health and safety codes themselves. If they complain or withhold rent, they risk retaliation from their landlord. They rely on the city to inspect their rental homes and require landlords to make necessary repairs to keep them safely housed. Unfortunately, the City of St. Albans failed to do that here. Instead, when the landlord said he would not make repairs, the inspectors suddenly shut off the tenants’ power, gas, and water and ordered the tenants to immediately vacate their homes.” she said.

The City of St. Albans had conceded that people have a protected right to their homes, but claimed that this was an emergency.  However, the City had originally given the landlord 37 days to make repairs. It was not until after the landlord said he did not intend to rectify the problems, that the City immediately declared the property unsafe for occupancy and ordered the tenants out. The Court found that this was enough to allege that “the City did not ‘reasonably believe’ that, at the time of Plaintiff’s eviction, an emergency existed . . . .”

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