At his Tuesday Covid briefing, Gov. Phil Scott was either lying or uninformed when he answered a question about the hotel/motel emergency housing program. Neither is a particularly good look.
Scott was asked about a claim by homeless advocates that the state has more money for emergency housing but isn’t using it. Meanwhile, they say, some people are being turned away. “I just don’t believe that that’s the case,” Scott replied. “We do have a program. We are taking care of those in need… We are protecting those who need our help.”
Sounds good. But a few moments later, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith undercut those bland assurances. Smith was asked about expanded access to emergency housing when the weather gets cold.
“it’s gonna be limited because we still are housing 1500 people,” Smith replied. “The Issue is the availability of hotel and motel rooms as we move forward. We are scouring the state right now for buildings we could use as temporary shelter sites for those individuals.”
And then the kicker:
We’re turning away some people, unfortunately, that do qualify under existing program because we don’t have the hotel and motel space that we would like.
Well now. Scott says we’re helping all those in need. Smith says we’re already turning people away, and that could get worse when cold weather increases demand.
Which is it, boys?
The uncharitable interpretation is that Scott tried to get away with a lie. The charitable interpretation is that he didn’t now the real status of the program and deliberately tried to bullshit his way through it.
It wouldn’t be the first time he gave an uninformed answer. Remember when he revealed his ignorance that the Medical Reserve Corps had been called into service to staff vaccination clinics? Remember when he was unaware of his authority to issue a public health order?
You know, it’s OK for the governor to be ignorant of this or that detail of state government. It’s a big place. But it’s troubling that he is so facile at pulling stuff out his ass and presenting it as truth.
It gets worse. If progressive advocate and Statehouse camper-outer Brenda Siegel is to be believed, Smith is lying as well. “Capacity is not an issue which is right in line with misinformation never called out by press,” she tweeted. “Either advocates or admin called hotels to find out if there was capacity… can you guess which? PS. They are not turning folks away due to capacity.”
Scott and Smith did announce some good news: The federal government is fully funding the emergency housing program through April 1. Which means it’s a damn good thing Scott didn’t get his way when he was trying to end the program in September or October.
They also said there would be an announcement within days of changes in the program. I predict that eligibility rules will be loosened, but the administration won’t completely restore the program to its status last spring — which is what Siegel and her allies are calling for.
The overall picture is this. Scott is desperately trying to avoid being seen as coldhearted. He doesn’t mind being that way, he just doesn’t want to seem that way. So he’s gradually giving ground — but he doesn’t want to completely surrender. The result: He’s aiming for the appearance of compassion and caring, while giving as little ground as he can.
It’s quite the tightrope walk. Is it any wonder that he and his minions can’t keep their stories straight?