Poverty Law Project

The mission of the Poverty Law Project is to advance the law to eliminate the injustice of poverty. We represent low-income Vermonters with legal problems and we advocate for system change.

The injustice of poverty can take many forms.

  • Sometimes it is not having safe, stable, or affordable housing.
  • Sometimes it is not having enough income to meet your or your children’s most basic needs.
  • Sometimes it is being blocked from participating as an equal member in your community, or being denied your basic human rights.

We believe that housing is a human right. We advocate for that right with lawmakers and state agencies, and we help tenants stay in their homes. We also work to improve the quality of Vermonters’ homes by enforcing the rental housing code.

In the summer of 2021, the state announced plans to change the rules about emergency housing. Hundreds of Vermonters would have lost shelter. We blocked that change by filing a class action.

We represent people who need income support from Reach Up, 3 Squares, Social Security, and Unemployment Insurance. We represented hundreds of Vermonters in unemployment insurance cases during the pandemic. In fact, we sued the state in 2021 to shorten the wait times for appeals.

We help remove barriers that prevent low-income Vermonters from improving their lives. We help people ask for expungement of their criminal record so they can more fully participate in the economy and community.  Our Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic helps Vermonters address debilitating tax debt or disputes so they can move forward with their lives.

In the Statehouse, we advocate on behalf of low-income people to addresses the systemic and institutional causes of poverty. Recently we lobbied for a COVID eviction moratorium and funding to keep Vermonters housed during the pandemic and beyond.

We work with advocates and community partners across the state. If you are an advocate and you see an issue we should be working on, please call a Vermont Legal Aid office and let us know.

The Poverty Law Project has developed online information on many legal topics. Access them on our VTLawHelp.org website.

More information

Solving a surprise financial problem

A disabled man named Diego discovered loans were taken out against his life insurance policy — his only asset. He learned his late wife took out the modest loans to pay bills. Because he did not know about the loans, the fees and interest had grown to more than half the value of the policy. He was worried he would have nothing to leave to his beloved daughter, who was living on a low income.

Diego came to a legal clinic staffed by the Poverty Law Project a few times. But because Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) had investigated and found no wrongdoing, it appeared nothing more could be done. We encouraged Diego to come back to the clinic again if he found more information.

Diego did come back with more letters from the insurance company, which provided a reason to challenge the fees and interest. We wrote a letter to DFR with questions about their conclusions. We included letters from the insurance company.  With help from DFR, we were able to get the insurance company to absorb the loans and fees. They restored the policy to full face value.  Diego was thrilled that his daughter’s inheritance was saved.

Name(s) and some details have been changed to protect anonymity and confidentiality.

Need help?

You may qualify for legal help from Vermont Legal Aid. To ask for a referral to Vermont Legal Aid or other legal help:

  • use our Legal Help Tool on the VTLawHelp.org website, or
  • call our legal helpline at 1-800-889-2047.