Another day, another managerial faux pas from The Scott admini — sorry, there’s two of ’em this time.
We’ve got the sort-of discovery of money to partially restore the sudden and severe cut in the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP), plus a very belated mandate that recipients of pandemic-related unemployment insurance must produce proof of their eligibility. Yeah, from two and a half years ago. Hope you kept your pay stubs!
The latest on the VERAP bungle is the news that they’ve found $20 million they can use to patch up the program a little bit.
Oh wait, they haven’t found it — they “anticipate” finding it.
And assuming they do find it, it will only postpone (slightly) what the administration says is inevitable: assistance cutoffs for thousands of households by the end of November. Even if that “anticipated” money comes good, roughly 3,000 households will see their assistance end [checks notes] nine days from now.
Also, future cutoffs are likely to arrive with less than 30 days notice.
Because the administration can’t predict any farther than that?
There is still much more to be written about the Scott administration’s VERAP mess. (Whether our ever-diminishing political press will cover it or not, we’ll see. Anyone filed a public records request yet? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?)
What’s clear so far is that the administration somehow failed to discover that the emergency rental assistance program was running out of money until drastic action was required to prevent it from going immediately bust. Or possibly they discovered it earlier and covered it up until it was too late for anything other than emergency action. (That’s what a public records request could determine. Bueller?)
But there’s another whole dimension to this situation, and it has to do with the perils of bounty. Remember way back in 2021 and 2022, when Vermont was (metaphorically) flooded with federal Covid relief funds? Yeah, those were good times.
And what happens in good times? Prudence is abandoned. Abundance seems endless even when you know damn well it’s not. Policymakers in the administration, with buy-in from the Legislature, made a bunch of choices about how to spend all that money.
In retrospect, some of those choices look awfully unwise.
I’ve got a post sitting on the backburner called “We Have No Idea How Well State Government Performs.” The thesis is that Vermont’s government is woefully deficient in checks and balances. The Legislature is too slammed to do any green eyeshade stuff. The executive branch provides the bulk of the available information. The Joint Fiscal Office does some useful things and so does the auditor, but their reach is limited.
So we’ll probably never know who’s responsible for the monumental screwup with the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP). It’s out of money, folks. Rental assistance will diminish in a month and disappear entirely for thousands of households before the onset of winter. Oh, and utility assistance will end before the calendar turns to 2023.
According to the administration’s own numbers, 3,015 recipients will see their rental benefits end on September 30. Another 5,400 will get reduced benefits through the end of November, and then nothing.
The explanations on offer are threadbare, sheepish and inadequate. There are broad hints of administrative malfeasance.
This ought to be a scandal. Will it be? Based on past performance, probably not.