Temporary migrant shelter funding package clears Massachusetts House

  • The Massachusetts House passed a spending bill that covers temporary shelters for homeless migrant families after over 100 Democrats showed up for an informal vote.
  • Republicans forced Democrats’ hand on the issue, with rules in place for informal sessions giving them unique leverage in the Bay State’s overwhelmingly blue lower chamber.
  • The bill must now clear the state Senate before heading to the desk of Democratic Gov. Maura Healey.

A spending bill that includes money for temporary shelter spaces for migrant homeless families cleared the Massachusetts House on Monday after more than 100 Democratic lawmakers showed up at an informal session of the chamber to overcome efforts by House Republicans to block the bill.

Republicans had been repeatedly blocking efforts to pass the bill since last week, arguing the measure should be brought up in a formal legislative session to allow for debate and roll call votes.

The move forced Democrats to bring in dozens of legislators to overcome the parliamentary hurdle. In an informal session, debate and roll call votes aren’t allowed and a single lawmaker can block a bill, giving Republicans, in the minority in both chambers, leverage to block efforts to pass legislation.

MASSACHUSETTS WEIGHS TEMPORARY SHELTER FUNDING AMID HOMELESS, MIGRANT CRISES

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts Senate.

Democrats are pushing the $2.8 billion spending bill which sets aside $250 million to help provide shelter for vulnerable families, including up to $50 million for an overflow site for homeless families stuck on a state wait list. The state’s emergency shelters are buckling under a crush of migrant and homeless families.

A view of the Massachusetts State House, and the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge behind it, from a new condo building on Lagrange Street in the Boston Theater District on July 16, 2021.  (Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Minority Leader Bradley Jones defended the actions of Republicans saying they were trying to press Democrats to take debate the bill in an formal session.

“This, I think, has highlighted the dysfunction on Beacon Hill, highlighted the shortcomings of a one-party monopoly,” Jones said. “It’s done a disservice to the taxpayers of the commonwealth.”

MASSACHUSETTS INITIATES $5 MILLION GRANT PROGRAM TO PROVIDE TEMPORARY HOUSING FOR HOMELESS FAMILIES

Demand for shelter has increased as temperatures drop and 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 last month.

Over 100 families were waiting for emergency shelter spaces as of Friday. About 500 families have exited shelters since Sept. 1, making room for other families.

To create more space in the shelter system, the state has worked with federal officials to help migrants get work authorizations needed to find a job.

The surge in shelter demand is being driven in part by migrant families entering the state, officials said.

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The state launched a $5 million grant program last month to help local groups provide overflow shelter spaces for those on the wait list. The state is also letting up to 25 homeless families stay overnight in the state transportation building in Boston during the evening and overnight hours.

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