Former Gov. Charlie Baker’s warnings that the state’s emergency assistance shelter system is overfilling with migrants and will not be able to guarantee spots for eligible families come March featured an “artificial deadline,” one top lawmaker said Monday.
Top Baker administration deputies formally warned lawmakers in late December that within 90 days the state’s 3,500 shelter units would hit capacity, due to an influx of migrant families into the state. Baker also filed legislation asking lawmakers to put $130 million toward building more than 1,300 emergency shelter units, offering provider rate increases, funding a central intake center for newly arrived families, and helping place students in local schools.
Though the legislation died at the turn of a new session earlier this month, new Gov. Maura Healey said she also plans to file legislation for expanded shelter housing.
Asked by reporters about Baker’s March deadline, House Speaker Ron Mariano said, “we hear artificial deadlines all the time.”
At the time the Baker administration made its 90-day warning, House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said it seemed like an “arbitrary number.”
“The reason why we call the 90 days an arbitrary number is because if you went back 90 days previously, this wasn’t a crisis, you know, but now within a short period of time, this has become a crisis,” Michlewitz said Monday. “So who knows what the next 90 days are going to entail? I think we need to get a little more, our hands wrapped around the actual facts of this before we start moving stuff forward.”
Michlewitz and Mariano said they had unanswered questions about the administration’s capacity limit claims.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns in this conversation,” Michlewitz said. “The process of how people end up in certain communities, how they end up in those certain school districts, I think we need to continue to gather more information on that to be able to make sure whenever we did allocate this funding that it was done at an appropriate number, and not just something that we have to keep coming back to.”
Mariano said when his office received Baker’s supplemental budget bill in November, that they had questions for the administration.
“The first thing we did when we got those numbers, is how many people does this involve and how many lives is this going to entail? We never got hard numbers,” the speaker said.
Michlewitz said they “have to go forward with what information we can gather.” He also said he had been in conversation with Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues about the issue.
“Nothing concrete though,” he added.
Healey told reporters on Friday that she plans to file a bill to address the shelter capacity shortage, as well as supplemental funding for schools accepting migrant students.
“We recognize that folks are coming into communities, and communities … will need support and need the resources to make sure that they are supported in this time. Whether it’s with housing needs or the effect on our school districts,” she said on Friday.
The Massachusetts Office of Refugees and Immigrants registered about 1,000 individuals in 2021 who entered the state as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers — compared to over 2,000 who arrived just in the Boston area between May and August 2022, the state’s Congressional delegation said in October in a plea to the federal government for more resources to help local organizations deal with growing influx of people.House In Fact-Finding Mode On Migrant Shelter