Editorial: Why to keep the emergency order

As Gov. Scott considers rescinding the State Emergency Order he put in place March 13, 2020 to take charge of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s good reason to keep the order in place while also rescinding parts of the order so that life can return to pre-pandemic normal. The suggestion comes from Hunger Free Vermont and 130 other Vermont businesses and nonprofits that support continued food aid, and other forms of support that many Vermonters still need.

Here’s their case in a widely disseminated letter sent to Gov. 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.” (Read the full letter here: https://bit.ly/3v6HrwM).

The signees, of whom ACORN Network and the Brandon Food Shelf are included, have a point: With the emergency order in place, federal FEMA funding is available. Without the emergency order in effect, the funding through FEMA dries up and more of that burden is either shouldered by local agencies and state funds, or those in need do without.

The decision is not a slam dunk.

At some point, the state of emergency must be rescinded. At some point, those who have been helped by government assistance have to wean themselves off the federal free-for-all. At some point, they must get their lives back in order and take care of themselves, or do without. Keeping them on assistance becomes a never-ending cycle of dependency. Better the aid ends this summer than this coming winter.

But, are we there yet? What happens when thousands of homeless Vermonters now sheltered in motels are ushered outside? Where do they go, how will they be fed?

If Vermont doesn’t have those issues resolved, keeping the emergency order in place for another short while makes sense. The governor could lift or modify any remaining mask mandates and remove all restrictions for business operations as he was set to do in phase 4 of his recovery plan. But he could also leave the order in place to continue emergency aid for vulnerable Vermonters in terms of shelter and food.

It’s a reasonable suggestion. If the governor agrees, however, it ought to come with a caveat: Everyone gets 45 more days, then the entire order will be lifted by early August. Folks have to learn again how to stand on their own.

Angelo Lynn

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