Editor’s note: This is an open letter to Gov. Phil Scott written by Hunger Free Vermont and undersigned by 130 Vermont businesses and organizations.
Dear Governor Scott:
We are reaching out to request that you delay fully lifting the State Emergency Order to ensure the continued safety of vulnerable Vermonters until more complete plans are in place to expand State support for access to healthy food and safe housing.
We applaud the efforts to ensure that gaps remain filled while work continues on more permanent solutions, and appreciate the leadership you and State agencies have provided in addressing the health, housing, and economic needs of Vermonters throughout the pandemic. Our state vaccination rates are exemplary and will ensure protection from COVID-19 into the future. However, while we share hope that many aspects of life are returning to normal, for many Vermonters, the emergency is far from over. And given Vermont’s dearth of low-income housing and a food insecurity rate of 1 in 10 prior to the pandemic, “normal” was never acceptable. The recovery for Vermonters with low incomes, for those experiencing homelessness, and for those facing hunger, will be slow. Maintaining access to critical FEMA-funded programs supporting Vermonters’ access to basic needs like food, emergency housing, and more depends upon the continuation of a declared State of Emergency in some form. That support is essential.
The economic impact of COVID-19 remains widespread and continues to severely impact communities across the state. Hunger remains higher than ever before and levels have not decreased in the past year; an eviction crisis still looms; hunger and housing insecurity also disproportionately affect families with children and BIPOC Vermonters. The increased vaccination rate and continual decrease in COVID cases are certainly cause for celebration, but most people in our state are still living in a state of emergency. 12% of Vermonters report that their children aren’t eating enough because families can’t afford food, and 23% are struggling to cover usual household expenses. Many remain unable to access newly available jobs due to challenges with childcare, transportation, and more. 12% report struggling to keep up with rent, and many others cannot find housing at all. The charitable food and shelter systems simply cannot be a sustained support for all of these needs.
The State of Emergency supports our businesses as well as the most vulnerable. Since March of 2020, the Department for Children and Families Economic Services Division has issued over $45 million in emergency allotment benefits to 3SquaresVT households. These funds not only support the food budgets of nearly 70,000 Vermonters, but they stimulate our economy and support our local food retailers and farmers by keeping millions of federal dollars each month in our communities, especially during the summer and fall months when local food is abundant in stores and at farmers markets throughout the state.
The innovative and highly successful Vermont Everyone Eats program has distributed over one million meals purchased from local restaurants to Vermonters across the state through 134 distribution sites. We join you in celebrating this initiative’s triple-impact approach, as it supports local businesses, farmers and growers, and food access. Restaurant owners across the state have shared that this program is the primary reason why they have remained in business and not had to lay off their staff members. Hundreds of people, in particular older, disabled, and homeless Vermonters unable to otherwise access food, are depending on this innovative program right now. Continued funding for Vermont Everyone Eats is also tied to the continued state of emergency declaration.
Loss of funds tied to the declaration of emergency that are helping households afford basic needs in this unprecedented time would be detrimental to Vermont’s economy and health.
We request that when reducing COVID restrictions to help open up our economy, you will also recognize the ongoing health and economic distress of many Vermonters and sustain key elements of the Emergency Order to protect Vermonters who are food insecure and facing homelessness. Specifically, we request ongoing support for prepared meals to eligible recipients of the GA Emergency Housing vouchers residing at hotels, a ramp down of the Vermont Everyone Eats Program that allows hubs and restaurants to continue to fill in the most critical regional gaps in meal provision, and your administration’s continued work to ensure the continuation of 3SquaresVT emergency benefit allotments for as long as possible. We believe that unless a new plan is in place to ensure all in Vermont can meet these two most basic needs, our entire recovery is jeopardized.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests, and for your ongoing work to ensure not only a strong recovery from this pandemic, but a future in which all Vermonters’ most basic needs are secure.
The 130 undersigned Vermont businesses and organizations:
Arlington Food Shelf, Inc.
Aunt Dot’s Place
Barre Congregational Church
Bethany Bowl Free Community Meal
Bethany United Church of Christ
BHA/Meals on Wheels of Central VT.
Brandon Area Food Shelf/Brandon Senior Citizens Center
Brattleboro Housing Partnerships
Burke Senior Meal Site
Burlington Children’s space
Burlington Housing Authority
Butch + Babe’s
Cabot Village Store
Capstone Community Action
Centre Congregational Church
Champlain Islands Foodshelf
Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity
Christ Episcopal Church, Montpelier
Colchester Community Food Shelf
Community College of Vermont – Winooski
Community of Vermont Elders
Cornerstone Restaurant Group
CVTNOW Central Vermont chapter National Organization for Women
Deacons of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont
Disability Rights Vermont
Downstreet Housing and Community Development
Duxbury Elf Food Shelf
East Calais Community Trust
Episcopal Deacons of Vermont
Feeding The Valley Alliance
First Presbyterian Church of Barre
Franklin Grand Isle Community Action/CVOEO
Full Ladle Community Meal, Montpelier
Good Samaritan Haven
Grandmas Spanish kitchen
Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, Inc. (GBICS)
Green Mountain United Way
Guilford Cares, Inc.
HANDS (Helping and Nourishing Diverse Seniors)
Hinesburg Food Shelf
Holland Food Bank. Abenaki Helping Abenaki Nulhegan Abenaki
The Hunger Councils of Vermont
Hunger Free Vermont
Hunger Mountain Co-op
John Graham Housing & Services
Lamoille Community Food Share
Lamoille Community House
Lamoille Family Center
Lamoille Health & Human Services Resourse Command Center
Lamoille Health Partners
Laraway Backpack Program
Listen Community Services
Little Rivers Health Care, Inc.
MARK BBQ / Everyone Eats
Milton Family Community Center
Montgomery United Methodist Church Food Pantry
New Community Project
Northeast Kingdom Council on Aging
Northeast Kingdom Human Services Inc.
Ottauquechee Health Foundation
Our Place Drop-In Center
Pine Forest Children’s Center
Randolph Area Community Development Corporation
Randolph Area Food Shelf
Reading/West Windsor Food Shelf
Red Panda Essex
Richmond Community Kitchen
Richmond Food Shelf
Richmond Food Shelf and Thrift Store
Roxbury Food Shelf
Rutland Free Clinic
Screamin’ Ridge Farm, Inc
Sheffield Food Pantry
Showing Up for Racial Justice, MIddlebury
South Royalton Health Center
Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA)
Spectrum Youth and Family Services
Springfield Family Center, Inc.
St. Augustine Free Community Lunch
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Vergennes, VT
The DREAM Program
The Giving Fridge
The Health Center, Plainfield
The Intervale Center/Vermont Everyone Eats
The OVERLOOK CAFE
The Rutland Salvation Army Community Center
The Salvation Army
The Skinny Pancake + ShiftMeals
The Veterans’ Place Inc.
The Woods Lodge
Thetford Food Shelf
Townshend Community Food Shelf
UCM Monday Community Lunch
United Way of Northwest Vermont
Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition
Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance
Vermont Legal Aid, Inc
Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council
Voices for Vermont’s Children
VT Episcopal Deacons
VT Works for Women
Waterbury Area Senior Center
Westgate Housing Inc.
Williamstown Food Shelter
Winooski Housing Authority SASH
Wolcott United Methodist Church
Worcester Food Shelf