Some recent press mentions for Vermont Legal Aid.
August 5, 2022: Health insurance rates to go up for thousands of Vermonters
WCAX-TV quoted Chief Health Care Advocate Mike Fisher:
“We have to predict that the current system we have will continue to produce rates that more and more Vermonters will be priced out of.”
Seven Days quoted attorney Grace Pazdan:
Grace Pazdan, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, said VHFA could do more to communicate with frustrated homeowners. But even when homeowners know what's causing the delays, there's little they can do to move the process along.
Vermont Public quoted Vermont Legal Aid attorney Maryellen Griffin:
“Even though we have really specific rules about heat, and how much heat the landlord has to ensure is available in the apartment, we don't have similarly detailed rules about air conditioning.”
Brattleboro Reformer, VT Digger, and Valley News mentioned Chief Health Care Advocate Mike Fisher:
“Unfortunately, as Chief Health Care Advocate Mike Fisher recently wrote, this federal support is set to expire at the end of this year. The loss of these subsidies will make rising premiums sting even more.”
VT Digger commentary by Mike Fisher of the Office of the Health Care Advocate (HCA):
“If the increases requested by the two insurers that sell health insurance policies to individuals and small businesses in Vermont are approved, premiums will go up an average of 15%. Although Vermonters would experience a different rate of increase based on the policy they choose and their income level, the net effect for just about everyone would be higher premiums.”
Valley News and VT Digger mentioned HCA’s Mike Fisher:
“Vermonters can’t afford it. It’s not a comment on whether hospitals need it or not, but the increases in commercial rates translate directly to increases in the cost to Vermonters.”
VT Digger mentioned Mike Fisher of the HCA:
“Mike Fisher, chief health care advocate at Vermont Legal Aid, said the agreement offers a ‘real positive change for a small subset of people.’ But he also said he hoped any increase in Medicaid payout to providers would prompt health care systems to reduce service charges on privately insured Vermonters.”
Vermont Biz mentioned the Office of the Health Care Advocate
VT Digger mentioned attorney Rachel Seelig:
“When the student is not at school, they're not getting any educational services,” said Rachel Seelig, director of Vermont Legal Aid’s Disability Law Project and chair of a state special education advisory panel. “And they're not being allowed to interact with their peers or be included in a classroom setting.”
May 31, 2022: Vermont Reach Up Coalition
The World Online mentioned former VLA attorney Jessica Radbord:
Jessica Radbord, a consultant at Vermont Legal Aid, noted, “TANF work requirements were rooted in racist, sexist, and classist narratives. We advocated for elimination of Vermont’s strict and arbitrary work requirements because we believe – and evidence shows – that engaging Reach Up families collaboratively to remove barriers to employment and to identify goals is the best way to help them achieve long-term economic stability.”
May 15, 2022: Staffing woes plague special education, shorting students and driving up costs
VT Digger quoted attorney Rachel Seelig:
Rachel Seelig, director of Vermont Legal Aid’s Disability Law Project, said she has seen districts undervalue extended school year programs in the past, a problem the pandemic has exacerbated. “We have gotten some calls from families who are struggling to get extended school year (services) for their students because staffing is inadequate,” Seelig said.
May 4, 2022: Gov. Scott has rejected Burlington’s attempt to limit evictions
Burlington Free Press quoted VLA attorney Jean Murray:
“Our experience has been that landlords are ending tenancies to sell the buildings or raise the rent," wrote Jean Murray of Vermont Legal Aid…In 75% of all eviction cases in Vermont, landlords have lawyers while tenants do not, according to a 2019 report by Vermont Legal Aid.”
WCAX-TV3 interviewed Eric Avildsen about his long tenure at VLA
Caledonian Record reported on Eric Avildsen’s retirement
April 19, 2022: Rachel Batterson: When it comes to housing, be a YIMBY
VTDigger published a commentary by attorney Rachel Batterson:
“I’m issuing a challenge. Be a YIMBY. Show up and say, “Yes, I do want affordable housing in my backyard.” Let’s make all of Vermont’s communities welcoming and inclusive for all. ...”
April 19, 2022: Why Vermonters carry less medical debt
WCAX interviewed Chief Health Care Advocate Mike Fisher:
“We want Vermonters to be able to get the care they need and the care that their providers recommend,” said Mike Fisher, the chief health care advocate for Vermont Legal Aid.
MarketWatch mentioned long-term care ombudsman Alice Harter:
The new management changed the facilities’ phone and computer systems and started operating the homes under new names—without having licenses for the facilities, says Alice Harter, a Vermont long-term care ombudsman. “It’s like putting the cart before the horse,” she says.
Seven Days mentioned Vermont Legal Aid attorney Rachel Seelig:
Rachel Seelig, the director of Vermont Legal Aid's Disability Law Project, said that for years she has seen students with disabilities denied admission to — or asked to leave — independent schools because of their special needs.
Seven Days mentioned Vermont Legal Aid attorney Mairead O’Reilly:
“This bill is important,” Vermont Legal Aid attorney Mairead O’Reilly said, “because it provides greater access to record clearance for folks who have served their sentence and paid their debt to society and really need and deserve to be reintegrated into our community.”…Eventually, T.N. said, he was able to get his record sealed — with assistance from Vermont Legal Aid — due to his young age at the time of the offenses. He said he is now working in the tech field as a recruiting coordinator.
He said he would like to see the process of clearing criminal records in Vermont expanded to help improve the lives of more people. “I did it and it changed my life,” he said.
February 17, 2022: Vermont working through appeals for denied unemployment claims
WCAX mentioned Vermont Legal Aid:
Nearly 600 Vermonters were waiting up to six months to have their appeals heard, long past the 30-day requirement in state law. So in December, Vermont Legal Aid filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Labor to speed up the process. Under an interim settlement reached this week, the state has begun working through the backlog with more administrative judges and making internal changes.Legal aid says it’s already making a difference. They’re hoping to clear the backlog by May.
February 16, 2022: Proposed Legislation Seeks to Keep More Vermonters Out of Medical Debt
Seven Days mentioned Mike Fisher, chief health care advocate:
"Vermonters want to pay their bills. They want to make good on them. In desperation, all they know how to do is not go to the doctor again…We clearly touched a nerve," said Mike Fisher, Vermont's chief health care advocate, a state-funded position at Legal Aid. "Almost everybody that I talk to says, 'Yeah, I've got a friend...' or 'I've got a brother...' or 'I know somebody who's really being hurt.' It's prevalent."
Seven Days and VPR mentioned paralegal Devon Ayers:
The Boves' plan to evict, renovate and raise rents reflects an increasingly common practice in Vermont, said Devon Ayers, a paralegal at Vermont Legal Aid. "You don't have to evict 24 households to make it a safe and habitable place to live," Ayers said.
The Mountain Times mentioned attorney Jean Murray:
“Vermonters whose landlords repeatedly refuse to make needed repairs do have legal protections depending on the circumstances,” Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Jean Murray said. “If a renter requests a repair and is met with a notice to vacate, the eviction may be considered retaliatory and thus void,” Murray added…“We’re hearing a lot about inadequate heat,” she said. “For me, Vermont law isn’t strong enough requiring landlords to make sure that places are insulated.”
Valley News mentioned paralegal Devon Ayers, HELP and VLA:
“The law doesn’t protect tenants even when they’ve done everything right,” Devon Ayers, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid in Burlington, told me. “The landlord has the right to kick them out.”… Vermont Legal Aid, the nonprofit that assists low-income residents in civil matters, told me it’s interested in hearing more from the tenants in Quechee. “We’re seeing similar things in other towns,” Ayers said. Vermont lawmakers are now considering a proposal that places a moratorium on no-cause evictions through June 30, 2023. The bill “recognizes that we’re in one of the most extreme housing crises we’ve ever been in,” said Ayers, who testified before a House committee on Thursday. “Without systematic change, people are going to keep losing their housing.”
Caldonia Record mentioned Alice Harter and Sean Londergan of the Vt. Long-Term Care Ombudsman Project:
The annual report, produced by state ombudsman Sean Londergan and the project’s team of regional ombudsmen outline staffing as a critical need for the facilities and agencies, as well as the people they care for…Alice Harter, the Northeast Kingdom representative of the VOP, said staffing concerns are as prevalent in the NEK as they are in the rest of thestate. “Staffing pre-COVID was bad and the pandemic made it 100 times worse,” said Harter, who is approaching retirement after serving 30 years as an ombudsman across numerous regions. “I feel bad for both the residents and the facilitiestrying to get staff in and do a good job,” said Harter. “They are really suffering from this.”
Seven Days mentioned attorney Rachel Seelig:
Parents looking for advice often contact Vermont Legal Aid and its Disability Law Project, according to director Rachel Seelig. Since August 2021, the project has opened 80 education cases. That's about a 20 percent increase from before the pandemic, while funding for the work has stayed flat. When staffing is a barrier, as it has been this year, "these cases are becoming more difficult to resolve," Seelig said.
February 1, 2022: Quechee renters forced out
VT Digger mentioned attorney Jean Murray:
“Vermonters whose landlords repeatedly refuse to make needed repairs do have legal protections depending on the circumstances”, Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Jean Murray said. “If a renter requests a repair and is met with a notice to vacate, the eviction may be considered retaliatory and thus void”, Murray added. “We’re hearing a lot about inadequate heat,” she said. “For me, Vermont law isn’t strong enough requiring landlords to make sure that places are insulated.”
VT Digger mentioned attorney Sean Londergan:
This was an issue before the pandemic and it’s only gotten worse,” said Sean Londergan, Vermont's long-term care ombudsman and author of the report.
Center for Medicare Advocacy mentioned Vermont Legal Aid:
The Center for Medicare Advocacy and Vermont Legal Aid brought the Jimmo v. Sebelius class action lawsuit on behalf of beneficiaries who were being denied Medicare coverage for skilled care on the basis that they were not improving or did not demonstrate potential for improvement.
Newport Dispatch mentioned attorney Maryellen Griffin:
Maryellen Griffith, a lawyer with Vermont Legal Aid, produced a study showing that (pre-Covid) the average amount of rent arrears before eviction was $2,000.
January 10, 2022: Stowe family pleads with town to hold landlord accountable (wcax.com)
WCAX mentioned attorney Maryellen Griffin:
Mary Ellen Griffin, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, said the law isn’t always clear when it comes to heating issues. “The statute just says that the landlord has to make repairs in a reasonable amount of time. Often inspectors will set deadlines, but there’s not a firm deadline in the statute,” Griffin explained.
True North mentioned Vermont Legal Aid:
“Representatives from VISA, the Council of Independent Schools and Vermont Legal Aid’s Disability Law Project spent much of this week working out revisions to the rules to clarify language and create the needed assurances.”
Rutland Herald and Times Argus mentioned Vermont Legal Aid:
The Vermont Landlord Association can provide additional help for landlords and Vermont Legal Aid can provide additional assistance for tenants.
VPR mentioned Mike Fisher, chief health care advocate:
Mike Fisher says high-deductible health insurance plans have left many Vermonters in serious medical debt. Fisher will soon ask lawmakers to approve legislation that would forgive a larger percentage of the unpaid medical bills of low-income patients.
The article also tells the story of a man, Rick McDowell, who ended up with high medical debt. Fisher says, “The unforgiven debt, however, can drag down the finances and credit scores of Vermonters like McDowell”.
December 15, 2021: Sandra Paritz: Why housing still isn’t considered a human right - VTDigger
VT Digger published an op-ed by VLA attorney Sandra Paritz:
“Vermont’s efforts to house all who were homeless during the pandemic allowed us to have one of the lowest infection rates before vaccines became available. Numerous studies show that housing is essential to health, and that homelessness causes and exacerbates trauma, mental illness, chronic health conditions and substance use disorders…We have the tools to address these problems. It is time for the law to reflect what we now know to be true — that housing for all must be recognized as a basic human right.”
December 15, 2021: ‘I was barely making ends meet already and worrying about garnishment from your check—it’s scary.’ How post-judgment interest became the new debt collection battleground - MarketWatch
Market Watch article mentions attorney Jean Murray:
Murray recounts a difficult time when she lobbied to lower the post-judgement interest rate in 2017 but was unsuccessful. She also tried to help a client who had been struggling with out-of-control debt. Unfortunately, the client passed away before Murray could complete her representation. The client didn’t seek medical treatment because she was terrified of taking on further debt.
Seven Days VT article mentioned Sean Londergan of Vt. Long-Term Care Ombudsman Project:
Vermont officials appear skeptical of an application from a group of New York men who want to buy five of the state's largest nursing homes. At stake is nearly 20 percent of all nursing home beds in Vermont, spread across some of the state's most troubled facilities. These five homes involved in the transfer were ranked “below average” or “much below average” on federal quality scorecards.
Londergan in an October 1st letter to Human Secretary Smith's office. "Given the quality data provided to the state wrote that, "[VOP] is concerned that there will [be] no improvement in the quality of care for residents if the Applicants were to assume ownership of the five facilities" … “It's ‘unclear’ whether the ownership change would be in the best interest of residents”.
VT Digger article mentioned VLA attorney Kelli Kazmarski:
Kazmarski says, “These delays are violating not only state law, but also Vermonters’ due process rights. People are waiting months and months without benefits just to be heard before these errors can be corrected. That’s simply unacceptable”.
This topic was also reported by the Burlington Free Press: Vermont Department of Labor sued for delaying unemployment appeals (burlingtonfreepress.com)
This topic was also reported by VPR: News roundup: Vt. Health Dept. reports all-time highest COVID positivity rate, case count | Vermont Public Radio (vpr.org)
This topic was also reported by VT Digger: Vermont Legal Aid sues on behalf of Vermonters denied jobless benefits - VTDigger
This article was also reported by My NBC News 5: 'Huge hardship': Vermonters denied jobless benefits wait months to appeal (mynbc5.com)
This topic was also reported by the Rutland Herald: Vermont Department of Labor sued over unemployment appeals backlog | News | rutlandherald.com
This topic was also reported by Times Argus: Vermont Department of Labor sued over unemployment appeals backlog | News | timesargus.com
This topic was also reported by the Eagle Times: Vermont Department of Labor sued over unemployment appeals backlog | News | eagletimes.com
My Champlain Valley article mentioned paralegal Devon Ayers:
A group of advocates have begun lobbying state lawmakers to approve a change to Burlington’s charter that requires landlords in the city to provide just cause for residential evictions. According to VLA, at least 20% of eviction cases in Chittenden County are filed without cause. Ayers says, “the percentage is higher in other areas of the state, such as Lamoille County and Windsor County” … “This year, we have seen no cause as grounds for eviction 50% of the time”.
This article was also reported by 22 News WWLP: Advocates lobby lawmakers to approve Burlington’s just-cause eviction ordinance | WWLP
Seven Days article mentioned attorney Emily Kenyon:
Emily Kenyon has been a huge impact at Vermont Legal Aid and to Vermonters since her hire. She is focusing on helping unemployed Vermonters, a “domain” that the Poverty Law Project doesn’t usually handle. “I’ve always known I’ve wanted to have a career helping people in some way”, she says. A client comments, "Emily was really wonderful … I don't think I would have been in such a position right now if it wasn't for her helping me".