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    Saturday, March 02, 2024

    Mass. lawmakers reject GOP efforts to block money for migrant family homeless shelters

    Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka presides at inauguration ceremonies in the House Chamber at the Statehouse in Boston, Jan. 3, 2019. A spending bill that includes money for temporary shelter spaces for migrant homeless families cleared the Massachusetts House, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, after more than 100 Democratic lawmakers showed up at an informal session to overcome efforts by House Republicans to block the bill. Spilka said the budget also includes collective bargaining increases, disaster relief for municipalities and special education funding. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

    BOSTON (AP) — 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 to overcome efforts by House Republicans to block the bill.

    House Republicans had been repeatedly blocking 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 House 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. That gave Republicans, in the minority in both chambers, leverage to block efforts to pass legislation.

    The bill was later approved by the Massachusetts Senate and shipped to Democratic Gov. Maura Healey, who quickly signed it into law.

    Democrats pushed the $2.8 billion spending bill which would set 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.

    Minority Leader Bradley Jones defended the actions of Republicans saying they were trying to press Democrats to take debate the final version of 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.”

    Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said the budget also includes collective bargaining increases, disaster relief for municipalities and special education funding.

    “It's a win-win for everybody. And the bottom line, the supplemental budget is done. It's passed. It's going to the governor's desk,” Spilka said.

    Republican Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the effort to get the funding approved during an informal session shows how both parties can work collaboratively.

    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.

    As of Monday, 140 families were waiting for emergency shelter spaces. More than 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.

    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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