(The Center Square) – Massachusetts emergency shelters linger in limbo as the House and Senate failed to strike a deal to pass a supplemental budget on the last day of the formal session.
At the center of the impasse is $250 million intended to aid emergency shelters that have reached capacity, mainly due to an influx of homeless migrants arriving in the commonwealth.
Last month, Gov. Maura Healey imposed a migrant housing cap of 7,500, adding additional families to a wait list.
Democrats in both chambers nixed a proposed amendment to impose a one-year residency requirement for recipients to be eligible for the “Right-to-Shelter” law, which Republicans say would help “stem” the flow of migrants.
“This is a simple solution that would help stem that tide,” said Rep. Peter Durant, R-Worcester. “Is it the end-all-be-all? No. We have a lot of work to do with those that are here. We have a lot of work with those that may still continue to come here, but unless you turn the spigot off that never is going to stop.”
One of the significant differences between the budgets proposed in either chamber is a breakdown in how the funds will be spent. The House proposal details how the money will be spent, including funding overflow emergency housing. Meanwhile, the Senate would give the governor more discretion on the spending.
However, Senate Democrats championed their version of the supplemental budget, saying the funds would offer both broad and individualized support services.
The House measure would require the governor to set aside $50 million of the funding to create overflow shelters for migrant families to be opened within 30 days.
Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the Senate’s plan would offer the governor more “flexibility” in response to housing migrants, which appears to be a significant divider between the two chambers.
“Today the Senate took a bold step forward, and passed a supplemental budget that not only closes the books on Fiscal Year 2023, but also acts swiftly to meet the challenges of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that deserves our full attention, care, and assistance,” said Rodrigues.
However, the approved Senate version would require “robust reporting every 14 days.” In addition to the reporting requirements, the budget supplement would provide $10 million for resettlement agencies to assist migrants, with authorization for $2 million to support career centers to help migrants secure federal work authorizations.
Republicans have opposed the spending bills in both chambers. In the House version, GOP members took issue with a proposal to expand welfare SNAP benefits for migrants, saying it could exacerbate the issue of migrants flowing into the commonwealth to take advantage of the generous benefits.
Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Worcester, says throwing money at the “problem” will only extend the crisis.
“Continually throwing more money at the problem with no end in sight is not a solution; it belabors the problem,” he said.
Now that the formal session has ended, for the supplemental budget to be passed between now and Jan. 2, the budget would have to go through an informal session behind closed doors, which could be passed without debate or a recorded roll call vote.