Citing a “dramatic increase” in demand for emergency shelter assistance driven by migrant arrivals, Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday filed a $139 million bill that his office said would help agencies expand shelter capacity and recruit and retain workers at a time of need.
Baker said the arrival of families from locations such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Venezuela and Ukraine has added pressure on the state’s emergency shelter system, which is “already effectively at 100% capacity.” That trend is exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing throughout the state, he said.
The legislation would create a $130 million reserve fund that, combined with another $20 million appropriated in a new economic development law, would help providers meet the rising demand. “Many of these families need medical care and other services, in addition to shelter. And many of them have school-aged children, some with limited English proficiency, who need to be placed in a school that can meet their needs,” Baker wrote in a letter to lawmakers alongside his bill. “As a right to shelter state, the Commonwealth through its Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is committed to providing safe temporary shelter to these families, while helping them to find permanent housing. To address the recent increase in demand for shelter, we urgently need to expand the capacity of the EA system.” Baker’s office said $73 million of the reserve would be used to expand the shelter system’s capacity by providing more than 1,300 additional shelter units as well as rate increases. Another $20 million will go toward standing up a temporary central intake center for newly arrived families, and the remaining $37 million will help place students in local schools through the end of fiscal year 2024.
The spending bill Baker announced Friday, which does not yet have a bill number, also calls for $9.2 million for the Registry of Motor Vehicles to implement a new law allowing undocumented immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses that will take effect July 1, 2023. Baker vetoed that legislation before Democrats in the Legislature overrode it into law and voters turned aside a repeal effort. “This funding is needed now to ensure the RMV can begin hiring and training the additional staff needed to meet the increased demand for services, and enable the RMV to efficiently and securely develop new processes and transaction types required by the legislation,” Baker wrote.