BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–A day after House Speaker Ronald Mariano made clear that the Legislature is not going to advance her request for hundreds of millions of dollars more to prop up the state’s stressed emergency shelter system without more information from her administration, Gov. Maura Healey downplayed the notion of friction with the Legislature and again laid blame for the crisis at the feet of the federal government.
The $250 million that Healey proposed steering toward shelter services as part of a supplemental budget to close the state’s books on fiscal year 2023 was a main topic of conversation when the governor, House speaker and Senate President Karen Spilka huddled Tuesday. Mariano, whose chamber sent the governor’s bill to its Ways and Means Committee, said the House was “still searching for some answers on the potential total expenditures that we’ll be dealing with.”
On WBUR’s “Radio Boston” Wednesday, Healey said “the issue is really not 250 [million dollars] or whatever I’ve sought for funding,” but rather the fact that the federal government has not addressed national immigration policies or provided money to states like Massachusetts where shelter systems are being squeezed in part because of an influx of newly arriving immigrants.
“Let me be clear, we have a very supportive Legislature. We’ve been very much in touch about all of this throughout this time. And, you know, we’ll sort that out,” the governor said. “The issue right now — and it is an issue facing Massachusetts, it is facing states around the country — we have a failure of the federal government. We have people coming into this country over the border. They are escaping terrible, terrible, dire circumstances and they are coming into our states. And because of Congress’s failure to act on immigration reform, because of the federal administration’s failure to do things like give us expedited work permits and to give us money to provide resources, to reimburse us for what we’re incurring, states are holding the bag and bearing tremendous burden.”
As of Tuesday, there were 6,528 families housed in hotels and emergency assistance shelters, according to Healey’s office. That’s a nearly 18 percent increase since Aug. 6, two days before Healey declared a state of emergency around the crisis.
The governor said Wednesday that close to half of the roughly 22,000 people housed in the state’s shelter system are new arrivals from other countries, up from about a third weeks ago, but rejected the suggestion that Massachusetts would not have a family housing emergency situation if not for the arrival of migrants.
“No, I’m not saying that. And it’s why we sought additional funding in our budget and why we’ve really leaned in to creating more housing around the state. … We need to drive housing production. We’ve got too many people out there who can’t afford rents, who don’t have access to means to cover that, and prices are just going up and up,” she said. “So this was a problem, a crisis, already. I would certainly say, though, the new arrivals have further exacerbated the capacity constraints we’re facing in our emergency shelter system.”
Since she declared a state of emergency nearly a month and a half ago, Healey has called on the Biden administration to both expedite the work authorization process so that migrants can more quickly be connected to work opportunities and get on a path out of the state shelter system, and to provide states like Massachusetts with money to pay for increased costs associated with the migrant influx.
The governor said last week that she had not gotten any response from the Biden administration and on Wednesday said her office has not heard back from the feds “to our satisfaction.”
“And we need to, we need to. We need, not just answers, we need response, we need action. And we’ve given them exactly what they need to do. My letter to the White House could not have been more clear in terms of simple steps that could be taken to address this. Also, Congress has an opportunity to act but so far, they’re not willing to,” Healey, a Democrat who endorsed Biden ahead of the 2020 election, said. “And we need money. I mean, in talking to my colleagues, other governors across this country, other states, I mean, we’re all feeling it. And, frankly, we’re just having to foot the bill. And it is a big bill to take care of folks who are in this situation. It is the direct failure of the federal government.”
Healey this month has a new forum in which she could raise her concerns more directly to the president.
On Sept. 8, Biden announced that he would appoint Healey to a two-year term on the Council of Governors. The White House said the bipartisan group of 10 governors “focuses on matters of homeland security; homeland defense; civil support; synchronization and integration of state and Federal military activities in the United States; and other matters of mutual interest, including those involving the National Guard.”