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October 16, 2023

Mariano: No end in sight as migrant crisis costs pile up

Photo | Courtesy State House News Service House Speaker Ron Mariano

House Speaker Ron Mariano has been advised that colder weather is not likely to stem the ongoing tide of asylum-seeking migrants into Massachusetts and says Gov. Maura Healey's request for $250 million to help manage the crisis might not be enough to last even until the end of October.

During an appearance Sunday morning on WCVB's "On The Record" program, Mariano said he still has "tons of questions" about the crisis, suggested that state officials are still in the dark on many fronts, and issued a call for congregate housing, with hotels and shelters at capacity and fall's lower temperatures kicking in.

"We have people coming in daily, different times of the day, from different regions, entering our state from different locations," the Quincy Democrat said. "We're trying to get them all organized and we have no idea how many we're going to get, when they're coming, and what they need to survive here."

In mid-September, Healey offered a spending bill (H 4090) to the Legislature that included $250 million to put toward the escalating emergency shelter crisis. That proposal remains before a House committee, and Mariano said questions remain about aiding migrants as well as homeless individuals born in Massachusetts.

"Most of it is about how are we going to pay for this?" the speaker said. "And how do we keep this from eating up the money we already put to the homeless folks that we born here, that have difficulty surviving in this economy."

Rep. Peter Durant, a candidate in an ongoing special Senate election, and 11 other House Republicans last month filed a bill to limit the emergency housing assistance program only to  "residents of the commonwealth who are citizens of the United States." Durant also feels Massachusetts' right to shelter law is being abused and plans to file a bill to stop the cancellation of hotel reservations by legal residents, saying state bookings have made rooms unavailable to veterans who hope to attend the Dec. 9 Army-Navy game in Foxborough.

With thousands of families in the shelter system, a number that's still rising, the $250 million "will help," Mariano said. But he was quick to add, "It's not going to solve our problems. It may not even get us to the end of this month. And we don't see this stopping at the end of this month."

There were more than 6,000 families in shelters when Healey filed her request last month. On Oct. 12, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said Massachusetts has almost 7,500 families (close to 23,000 people) enrolled in the emergency shelter system.

Healey has said the $250 million would allow the state to continue to serve families and assist communities that are experiencing unexpected increases in students while the administration works on longer-term solutions.

As they push for elusive immigration system reforms, federal relief funding, and permits to help put migrants to work, the governor and other Democrats on Beacon Hill have expressed frustration with President Joe Biden. The president faces policy and political pressures over his administration's response to states that are absorbing a crush of new arrivals.

Mariano was among the state officials who met with federal officials last week during their visit to check out the situation here with migrants. He said he mentioned the situation in the U.S. House, where Republicans helped oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California but can't agree on his successor.

"Let's be realistic," he said, referencing the new level of instability in an already divided Congress. "As I said to them, I know the cavalry isn't on the other side of the hill. Right now there's a rudderless ship that controls the spigots of the help that we need. We need congregate housing facilities."

Mariano previously expressed his hope that colder weather would slow the flood of new families arriving here with a legal right to shelter and aid.

"It doesn't appear to be a let-up," he said. "Immigration folks that were visiting said that they don't usually see that much of a decline during the cold."

Gov. Healey will hold an 11 a.m. press conference at the State House Monday to provide updates on the emergency family shelter situation in Massachusetts.

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