Will Vt. Health Connect fixes be done on time?

"They are making progress, it's just excruciatingly slow," said Trinka Kerr of Vermont Legal Aid.

Kerr is the state's chief health care advocate and helps those with insurance issues they can't sort out on their own. She says the system has improved for those with new change requests, but billing problems are not getting better.

Kerr says she's concerned that in each monthly report, target dates for completing various tasks get pushed back.

"I am concerned about the slippage," Kerr said.

Editorial: Vermont Cuts Benefit for the Disabled

Vermont Legal Aid has taken up the cause of the Reach Up families, and last Thursday filed a federal lawsuit to block the impending cut. Christopher Curtis, the Vermont Legal Aid lawyer who filed the court action, bluntly called the proposed reduction a “poor tax.”

As for us, we question the sense and effectiveness of cutting assistance to families in such circumstances. It would squeeze those with little or no wiggle room in their budget, and hamper those striving to be independent.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Seeks 7.2 Percent Premium Increase

The technical debate during the board's hearing on the Blue Cross rate request Wednesday morning focused on how much it should set aside in reserve to cover unexpected increases in claims. Lila Richardson, the lawyer representing the Vermont Office of Health Care Advocate, argued Blue Cross had "overstated the reserve it needs."

Health care advocacy group to shut down

Trinka Kerr, a health care advocate with Vermont Legal Aid, said that she was not surprised to hear that the campaign was closing down in the wake of Shumlin’s announcement that he would no longer seek to implement a single payer system.

Kerr said that the state is still evaluating what steps should come next.

“I think after the failure of the grand plan, I think everybody is falling back and regrouping and rethinking what to do next,” Kerr said.

Temporary win for Vermonters receiving welfare-to-work aid

More than 800 needy families with disabled adults will keep their current level of financial assistance for two more months after a class-action lawsuit from Vermont Legal Aid....

"We think people should have the right to a hearing before their benefits are cut," Christopher Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, told the Rutland Herald on Monday.

[This AP article has run in numerous media outlets across the country.]

Civil Rights Panel to Examine Housing Discrimination in Vermont

Despite laws banning housing discrimination, Vermont housing analysts say it is an ongoing issue in Vermont and that discrimination is sometimes subtle. In 2014, Vermont Legal Aid released the results of a two-year study it undertook to look at housing discrimination in Vermont. According to Vermont Legal Aid, the testing results demonstrate "preferential treatment toward white testers of U.S. origin without children and without an apparent disability.

The Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Committee) will convene a public meeting to examine the persistence of housing discrimination in Vermont.

What: Briefing of the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. When: Monday, August 10, 2015 10:00 a.m. Where: Vermont State House 115 State Street Montpelier, VT 05633-5301

Vermont Legal Aid Housing Discrimination Law Project's Testing Coordinator Marsha Curtis and Staff Attorney Rebecca Plummer will present on the first panel from 10 - 11:15 a.m. along with Karen Richards, Executive Director, Human Rights Commission and Ted Wimpey, Project Director, Fair Housing Project, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

Low-Income Vermonters with Disabilities Sue State Over Benefit Cuts: Attorney calls new law unconstitutional, discriminatory

BURLINGTON – Low-income Vermonters with disabilities are fighting back against state mandated reductions to their household Reach Up benefits. Vermont Legal Aid filed a class action lawsuit in federal court today on behalf of affected Vermonters alleging that a new law is unconstitutional and discriminates against households with family members with a disabling condition.

The new law counts $125 of adult Supplemental Security Income (SSI) income against a household’s temporary cash assistance (or “Reach Up”) benefits. The plaintiffs are asking the court for an injunction to stop the cuts from taking effect, and to declare the reductions unconstitutional, discriminatory and illegal.

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Vermont Legal Aid Suit Aims to Halt Cuts to Low-income Cash Benefits

Vermont Legal Aid filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday seeking to halt implementation of a $125 reduction in the monthly Reach Up benefit for hundreds of Vermont families.

The class-action lawsuit alleges that the reduction, which the Legislature approved in the fiscal year 2016 state budget, is unconstitutional and that it discriminates against households with family members with a disability.Christopher Curtis, the Vermont Legal Aid attorney who filed the suit, has been a vocal opponent of the new Reach Up policy, categorizing it as a “poor tax.”

“Low-income people should not be targeted just because they happen to have a disability for a cut in their benefits,” Curtis said Thursday.

Curtis said the issues in the case are primarily related to laws and benefits at a federal level — including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Social Security policy.

According to a statement issued by Legal Aid, courts have halted similar cuts to temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) grant programs in other states.

State drops in U.S. rank for children’s well-being, report shows

Vermont was ranked fifth in the nation in an annual report on child well-being Tuesday, down three spots from its second-place ranking in 2014.

“I think the takeaway is that the effects of the recession are not only lingering, they’re getting worse for some children,” said Christopher Curtis, a staff attorney at Vermont Legal Aid and co-chair of the Governor’s Council on Pathways Out of Poverty. “My fear is that low income families are falling farther and farther behind.”
“We have to stop attacking the social safety net,” Curtis said. For a decade or more, budget cuts or reductions have undermined Vermont’s social safety net, destabilizing families that rely on them, he said.

“I don’t think it’s surprising when we live in an era of austerity,” Curtis said.

Read more: VT Digger | July 22, 2015

The ACA, the Service, and the Indian Health Care Delivery System

An article co-authored by Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Christine Speidel was published on the front page of the American Bar Association Section of Taxation's NewsQuarterly.