Emergency shelters across Massachusetts will run out of money on Saturday, according to the Baker administration and legislative officials, who say they are taking steps to ensure that the family shelters for the homeless do not close their doors or cut back on services.
The situation has come about because of an impasse between the House and Senate on a roughly $350 million spending bill loaded with outside policy sections that have nothing to do with funding homeless shelters. Both branches approved tens of millions of dollars in their respective bills to finance the shelters.
When Governor Charlie Baker urged the state Legislature to act quickly on his midyear spending bill filed late last month, he likely had this very situation in mind, cautioning that there were agencies and programs with "time-sensitive" funding needs demanding action before the end of March.
"We need the money that's in the supp," said Paul McMorrow, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. "From our perspective this is a timing issue. The shelters are not going to close. No families are in danger and we're working diligently with the Legislature to get the money they need."
The shelters, which are currently housing 4,463 families across Massachusetts, actually ran out of funds last weekend, but the Department of Housing and Community Development was able to implement a seven-day contract with providers and identify, with the help of the comptroller's office, a temporary short-term funding source for the shelters.
With those contracts set to expire again this weekend, shelter providers are "holding their breath" to see what happens with the supplemental budget bill, according to Kelly Turley, director of legislative advocacy for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
"I know the providers are really committed to ensuring the continuity of programs and the safety of children and families," Turley said.
The House on March 11 passed the governor's midyear budget bill with $44.2 million for emergency shelter assistance. The Senate followed suit a week later, approving $51.5 million for emergency assistance and another $3 million for the HomeBASE program.
Though the spending differences were small, the branches were unable to reach agreement before Thursday when a conference committee was appointed and the House and Senate adjourned for the week.
The broader bills includes multiple outside policy sections unrelated to emergency spending needs that have created friction between the House and Senate, including the Senate's tuition retention plan for the University of Massachusetts and House-backed changes to the state's gaming laws related to paying taxes on slot winnings.
"We're working to identify contingencies, but what we're not going to do is shut down the shelter system, or put families on the street," McMorrow said.
House budget leaders said Thursday they were aware of "funding timeliness" for the emergency assistance family shelter program, but could not comment on whether they would consider separating the shelter funding from the budget bill to get it approved faster.