The Vermont General Assembly approved a bill requiring the Office of Professional Regulation to certify peer support providers. It will take effect on July 1, 2025.

In 2022, Vermont’s five peer mental health organizations sought to persuade the legislature to enact a certification program that independent peer-run entities would have administered under the auspices of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, without OPR’s involvement. When that effort failed, they pressed DMH to take action through internal rulemaking, and Pathways Vermont’s Peer Workforce Development Initiative received a grant to develop a Medicaid-compliant plan for screening, training, and rostering peers based on the peer community’s input.

DMH received recommendations from Pathways’ peer-run subcontractor, Wilda L. White Consulting, last year, following a series of public meetings, and won funding from the legislature to begin to stand up a program. H.847, which passed in May, does not override that preexisting work.

OPR – not a peer-run entity – will serve as Vermont’s certifying body, but peers seeking certification will need first to earn a credential from a DMH-authorized “peer support provider credentialing body.” The new legislation doesn’t specify that the credentialing body must itself be a peer-run entity, but the Peer Workforce Development Initiative’s support for the bill seemed to indicate an expectation that DMH would choose to contract such an organization for the role, in accordance with its own guidance.

“We worked together with OPR, with Wilda, with the Department of Health, with folks from [the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery], to really try to come together and bring you a bill that was ready to go,” Nicole DiStasio, DMH’s director of policy, told lawmakers.

The Secretary of State will have to appoint two peer support providers to advise OPR as it receives and reviews applications. The legislation defines peer support as a means of “increasing an individual’s capacity to live a self-determined life,” as it “promotes multiple perspectives, advocates for human rights and dignity, and focuses on genuine, mutual relationships.”

“I think it’s past time for us to have some structure for peer support workers to be able to do this work and get the respect that it deserves,” Chris Nial, a peer support provider at Pathways, said.

The legislation specifies that Vermonters will not have to hold certification to practice peer support. But per federal rules, only those who do will have the ability to bill Medicaid for their services. With a certification program in place, DMH anticipates filing a state plan amendment with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services next year.

Zachary Hughes represented Vermont Psychiatric Survivors in legislative hearings. “We’re pleased with the idea that people can continue to do peer work without certification necessarily,” he said. “We believe in flexibility.”

Applicants for certification will pay a $50 biennial fee. Their initial payment will increase to $75 in 2027 – still the lowest sum among all OPR-regulated professions.

Under H.847, peer recovery support specialists, who help people with substance use challenges, will also have the opportunity to earn professional certification. Parallel language tasks the Department of Health with authorizing a “peer recovery support specialist credentialing body.”

The version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives left out the word “peer” in this section, defining the workers simply as “recovery support specialists.” A few legislators noticed and proposed a floor amendment just before the vote, but their last-minute effort didn’t succeed.

“All recovery coaches are people in recovery themselves or family members of someone in recovery,” Gary De Carolis, executive director of Recovery Partners of Vermont, subsequently emphasized in testimony before the Senate. “That needs to be added to the language of this bill.”

The Senate’s version called them “peer recovery support specialists.” The House concurred. At press time, Gov. Scott had not yet signed the bill into law.

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