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Healey administration proposes dipping into surplus funds to fill hole in shelter funding

Nanotte Jean Francois, her 4-year-old son, and 1-year-old daughter seek resources for new arrivals in Boston. With the state reaching capacity for emergency housing, large numbers are seeking assistance at the Immigrant Family Services Institute, in Mattapan.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Governor Maura Healey’s administration on Monday night announced a proposal to dip into the state’s surplus account to help cover the mounting costs brought on the state’s overburdened emergency shelter system, projecting it will need $224 million more this fiscal year and a whopping $915 million in the next.

The remaining balance in the unprecedented pot of money — an escrow account worth about $700 million — would be used to plug a multi-million dollar budgetary hole for the fiscal year that began July 1, plus half of the expected costs for the next fiscal year, the administration said.

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It would also cover costs of building more affordable housing, helping families navigate the country’s complicated immigration system, and other related expenses.

The plan was announced in a 10-page report to the Legislature on the state of the shelter system, and will be filed as a supplemental budget proposal “in the coming weeks,” the administration’s housing and finance chiefs wrote.

The report, the first of its kind, was born of a new requirement that came attached to the $3.1 billion supplemental budget Healey signed earlier this month, which included a $250 million infusion of shelter funds.

Though the rapid growth of families in need has been largely driven by an influx of migrants entering the state, until now there has been little available information about those new arrivals.

The Legislature now requires the administration to submit reports on emergency shelter data to the House and Senate budget chiefs every two weeks, including the number of families and new immigrants enrolled in shelters, how much the state is spending on the emergency assistance system, and the number of families are on the wait-list.

Lawmakers also required her administration to provide a breakdown of families in shelters, hotels, and motels delineated by city or town.

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According to the report, a total of 3,516 families of migrants, refugees, or asylum-seekers entered the shelter system this year. Of those, 813 individuals have permits to work in the US.

The administration also reported that the state had spent roughly $205 million through October on shelters, National Guard services, and other costs, while noting that November invoices are still being processed. The administration projects being short $224 million for the fiscal year that began in July.

For the next fiscal year, the state estimates it will cost $915 million to keep the emergency shelters running.

As of Friday, there were 306 families waiting for a placement.

For decades, homeless families have been guaranteed a roof over their heads under a 1980s-era law in Massachusetts, the only state in the country with a so-called right-to-shelter requirement. But the current statute makes the mandate “subject to appropriation,” meaning the state is required to follow it only as long as it has enough funding.

Healey and her aides argue the system has been pushed to its limits. At the current pace, nearly 13,500 families could be in the shelter system by the end of June, which would drive the cost of the program to $1.1 billion this year, according to Aditya Basheer, an assistant secretary in Healey’s budget office. That’s nearly four times what the state initially budgeted.

Since the administration first requested money from the Legislature, “the number of families in our shelter system has grown,” officials wrote in the report.

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“The shelter system has reached capacity at 7,500 families, and at that level, requires additional funding to avoid imminent run-out dates for key programs,” they wrote.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her @samanthajgross.