SPEAKER RON MARIANO said the House will vote to provide additional funding for the cash-strapped emergency shelter system on Wednesday, but neither he nor the governor nor the Senate president seemed to know how much money is needed.
Under the right to shelter law, Massachusetts is required to provide shelter and support services to homeless families with children and pregnant women. Funding for the program has been a moving target, with the original budget for the year set at $325 million to provide services to 4,700 families.
Gov. Maura Healey requested an extra $250 million on September 13 to get the shelter system through the current fiscal year. At that time, just a bit over three months into the fiscal year, the number of families in the system had grown to 6,300 with an influx of migrants from foreign countries.
The House hasn’t acted on the budget request because officials said they were trying to get a handle on how much money was needed. Now, however, the number of families has risen to nearly 7,500 and the Healey administration is preparing to cap how many people can be in the shelter system at that number.
Time is also getting tight. The Legislature is scheduled to recess for the year on November 15 and without additional funding the shelter system is expected to run out of money in mid-January.
Healey, Mariano, and Senate President Karen Spilka gathered in the governor’s office on Monday to plot their next steps on the emergency shelter program, but details on the funding front remained unclear.
Asked how much money the House will appropriate on Wednesday, Mariano said: “That’s yet to be determined.”
Mariano said the Healey administration just supplied the House with information on how the money is being spent. “That’s what we asked for originally,” he said, adding that the information will guide the House in its funding debate. “I expect to do what the numbers tell us to do,” Mariano said.
Healey said there has been confusion about her original $250 million request. She said that funding request has nothing to do with the cap she is placing on the shelter program, but she failed to mention that without the additional money the shelter system will not be able to operate at the capacity limit she has set. She said the state will reach her self-imposed 7,500-family capacity limit on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Once the cap is reached, the Healey administration is expected to start screening new applicants for emergency shelter and prioritizing them for admission as space opens up. The governor said opening space in the shelter system is also a high priority, with an emphasis on getting people out of the system as quickly as possible.
The governor stressed that money is not the only obstacle with the emergency shelter program.
“We’ve simply run out of infrastructure, personnel, service providers, funding,” she said. “I continue to call on the federal administration for support, both financial dollars and otherwise.”
Despite months of pleas, the federal government has provided little help so far.
At the time in September when the governor asked for an additional $250 million, the Legislature was debating what to include in a major tax cut package that would cost more than $1 billion on an annualized basis. An administration spokesman said the rising cost of the emergency shelter program and the ask for an additional $250 million did not affect the state’s ability to afford a major tax cut.
“We continue to believe it is affordable,” the spokesman said.