Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing a spending bill that includes money for temporary shelter spaces for homeless families as the state struggles to find newly arriving migrants places to stay after hitting a state-imposed limit of 7,500 families in its emergency homeless shelter system.
House and Senate Democratic leaders announced Thursday they had reached a deal on a $2.8 billion spending bill two weeks after wrapping up their formal session. The bill would steer hundreds of millions of dollars to the state’s emergency shelters buckling under a crush of migrant and homeless families.
Republican lawmakers, who are in the minority in both chambers, urged Democrats to split up the spending bill. GOP leaders say they support parts that would fund overdue pay raises and disaster relief efforts but oppose funding for migrant families without significant reforms.
"There is currently no plan in place to stem the flow of new arrivals and no policy reforms implemented to ensure that longtime residents in need are not denied housing assistance, which is completely unacceptable," Minority Leader Bradley Jones wrote in a statement Wednesday.
In an informal session, a single lawmaker can kill a bill. Formal sessions are set to begin again in January.
Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano said in a statement Thursday that the supplemental budget plan includes $250 million to help respond to families seeking shelter, including up to $50 million for an emergency overflow site for families stuck on the wait list.
Over 100 families are currently waiting for emergency shelter spaces.
To create more space in the shelter system, the state has been collaborating with federal officials to help migrants get work authorizations needed to find a job. At a series of recent work clinics sponsored by the state, more than 1,700 migrants have applied for work authorizations, officials said.
The Massachusetts State House in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. (Thomas Kurmeier via Getty Images)
The migrants, all of whom are in the country legally, are eager to get work and leave the shelters according to the state’s Emergency Assistance Director Scott Rice.
"We see first-hand a lot of these migrants coming in here, their objective is to get into a community and work," Rice said.
Nearly 500 families have exited shelters since Sept. 1, he said.
Last week, Catholic Charities Boston became first organization to be awarded a grant to provide temporary rooms for up to 27 extremely low-income families with children and pregnant individuals waiting for shelter spaces.
Democratic Gov. Maura Healey announced the $5 million grant program earlier this month.
The state also began last week letting homeless families stay overnight in the state transportation building in Boston. The space in the office building is large enough to provide overnight shelter for up to 25 families with cots and limited amenities and will only be used in the evening and overnight hours, officials said.
On Wednesday, the state announced it was joining with the YMCA of Greater Boston to give the families a welcoming environment including food and recreational opportunities during daytime hours when the temporary shelter isn't available.
The surge in demand is being driven in part by migrant families entering the state, officials said.