Senate eyes $825M fund to cover migrant costs

Senate Democrats plan to vote Thursday on a bill that would create new limits on how long families can stay in the emergency shelter system and allow the deployment of more than $800 million in state savings toward the crisis.

The Senate on Monday teed up redrafted legislation that would require the state to reassess eligibility for families and pregnant women after nine consecutive months in emergency shelters.

After that nine-month initial period, shelter residents could receive one or more 90-day extensions for meeting certain criteria, such as being a single parent for a child with a disability or needing shelter to avoid loss of employment, according to a Senate Ways and Means Committee official.

In a sharp departure from the House’s proposal, the Senate bill would direct $10 million in new spending toward smaller-scale shelter costs like job training and English instruction, plus allow the state to redirect $825 million from a savings account toward the crisis over the next 15-plus months.

The measure would permit the Healey administration to draw down tens of millions of dollars per month from the transitional escrow fund, starting with up to $75 million monthly for the remainder of fiscal year 2024. That monthly limit would drop to $65 million for the first three months of fiscal 2025, which begins July 1, then decline to $55 million per month from Oct. 1, 2024 through Dec. 31, 2024, $45 million per month from Jan. 1, 2025 through March 31, 2025, and $35 million per month from April 1, 2025 through June 30, 2025.

The House earlier this month approved its own version of the spending bill imposing a nine-month stay limit, with a three-month extension available for people with disabilities, pregnant women and veterans. Unlike the Senate bill, however, the House sought to steer $245 million more toward the shelter system in fiscal 2024 and took no action related to fiscal 2025 finances.

The Senate bill also calls for making permanent pandemic-era provisions allowing expanded outdoor dining and a graduate student nursing program, the committee official said. But in another contrast from the House, it would not allow restaurants to continue selling alcoholic beverages to go and would instead allow that measure to expire at the end of this month.

Senators scheduled debate on the bill for Thursday, when the chamber also plans to take up legislation cracking down on revenge porn. Amendments to the Senate supplemental budget are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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