When two small planeloads of migrants, including a handful of children, landed on Martha’s Vineyard in September, courtesy of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, the outpouring of local aid and community warmth turned a humanitarian crisis into the ultimate good news story.
But dealing with a few dozen dazed and confused individuals who find themselves suddenly on a bucolic island doesn’t begin to address the problem of hundreds of others in need of shelter or medical care, or of children who need to be in school.
That takes resources and it takes planning. The Baker administration in its waning days in office has been ready and willing to do the planning to address what Governor Charlie Baker called a “humanitarian crisis,” and at least begin its execution before Governor-elect Maura Healey steps in. But state lawmakers are taking their usual good, sweet time as they ponder Baker’s bill looking for $139 million more to deal here and now with needs that demand immediate attention.
Some public support from Healey might help the lame-duck governor prod lawmakers. In the meantime, frustrated by the lack of legislative action, a Baker administration official said Tuesday, “We’ve come to the conclusion that we just can’t wait, that we’re going to need to figure this out.”
Administration and Finance Undersecretary Catharine Hornby told the Local Government Advisory Commission, “There are certain things that we’re just going to do.” But she also admitted that without the legislation there wouldn’t be, for example, additional aid to schools for providing services to migrant children.
There was ample evidence of just how pressing local needs are during a hearing called by Boston City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune Monday into how the city is dealing with a surge in migrant arrivals.
“Housing remains one of the biggest challenges that we face,” said Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute in Mattapan. “Welcoming families every day, that’s the same story — the story that we hear: ‘we need a place to stay, we don’t know where we’re going to sleep tonight.’ ”
Monique Tu Nguyen, director of Boston’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, testified, “We’re not experiencing buses and planes, so we’re seeing them [migrants] in emergency departments and medical centers, in transit stations, in nonprofit organizations, and folks who are showing up and walking up to neighbors — and everyday neighbors helping them out.”
Boston is surely not alone in facing this everyday kind of crisis — the kind that doesn’t have a ready villain like DeSantis to blame, the kind that is only expected to grow in the days ahead.
When Baker filed his funding bill in mid-November, he noted in a letter to legislators that the state emergency assistance system was “already effectively at 100 percent capacity” and that caseloads were “expected to continue to increase over the coming months.”
The $20 million appropriated as part of an economic development bill signed last month will help but needs are increasing exponentially.
“Many of these families need medical care and other services, in addition to shelter,” Baker wrote. “And many of them have school-age children, some with limited English proficiency, who need to be placed in a school that meets their needs.”
Some $37 million of the funds requested in the still-stalled legislation would go to local school districts for emergency assistance for the remainder of this school year and all of next year.
That would be a huge help to places like Boston right now.
Another $73 million would fund an additional 1,300 shelter beds and the kind of case management services that need to go with those beds. That’s in addition to a shelter facility already planned for the former Army base in Devens which could accommodate 60 families or some 125 individuals. Expanded temporary housing would certainly be a better alternative than sheltering families in motels — a practice which has raised the ire of local officials in towns not exactly welcoming to the migrant families sent their way.
In fact, Baker charged, “some municipalities have implemented stricter sanitary codes specifically to prevent homeless shelter expansion in their communities.” He did not name names, but his bill would insist that “emergency shelter facilities created with the funding from this bill do not have to comply with local requirements that are more stringent than the state sanitary code.”
To date, however, there has been no movement — and certainly no urgency to act — on the bill that remains in the House Ways and Means Committee, and the only comment has been from the office of House Speaker Ron Mariano saying the proposal was “under review.”
If House leaders are waiting for some kind of sign from their next governor, perhaps it’s time for Healey to make the point herself that some things just can’t wait for the new year and the next legislative session.
During a season that celebrates the spirit of good will toward mankind, it would be sadly ironic for lawmakers to ignore the neediest among us. So before dipping into the party punch bowl, legislators ought to finish the job they signed up to do.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.