Massachusetts Republicans block spending bill to fund temporary shelters for migrant families

12/02/23 By Gandharvika Gopal

GOP lawmakers continue to challenge a $2.8 billion spending bill that would help fund temporary shelters for homeless migrant families in the commonwealth. Saturday marked the third consecutive session with no decision.

Photo courtesy of Ken Lund / Creative Commons

Of the almost $3 billion spending bill, $250 million would be directed to the state’s struggling emergency shelters undergoing an ongoing crisis. Earlier this year, Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency, citing “about an 80% increase” of families living in state shelters, according to AP News. Shelters continue to fill quickly as temperatures drop, and the state struggles to place newly arrived migrants after reaching a cap of 7,500 families set by Healey’s administration last month. 

Republicans argue the bill should be brought to a formal legislative session next year, while Democrats are pushing for approval two weeks after the last formal session of the year. An informal session would not allow for roll calls or votes. “Only non-controversial issues on which no legislator voices disagreement are considered and are approved by a voice vote,” according to MassLegalServices.

Republicans have delayed action on the measure twice, instead urging Democrats to split up the spending bill. “GOP leaders say they support funding for overdue pay raises for state workers and disaster relief efforts but oppose funding for migrant families without significant reforms,” according to Boston.com.

Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano said Republicans risk funding for other priorities of the bill as they oppose the $250 million that would help provide shelter for homeless families, reported the Associated Press. Minority Leader Bradley Jones argued there are concerns over the state’s handling of the shelter crisis. “This is inevitably going to start to crowd out funding for things that people in the commonwealth want to see,” Jones told reporters Friday. 

As legislators clash over the spending bill, other efforts to provide shelter for homeless families have been put in place. Gov. Healey announced a $5 million grant program last week to assist local organizations in providing temporary overnight rooms for families and pregnant individuals waiting for shelter spaces. Additionally, the state recently decided to allow up to 25 families to stay overnight in the Massachusetts Transportation Center. 

Over 100 families are currently waiting for shelter spaces to open up. While formal legislative sessions won’t begin until January, the House is set to reconvene for an informal session on Monday.