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Massachusetts GOP lawmakers block money for temporary shelters for migrant homeless families

BOSTON (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Massachusetts again blocked approval Friday of a spending bill that includes money for temporary shelter spaces for migrant homeless families, saying the measure should be brought up in a formal legislative session to allow for debate and roll call votes.

Democrats are instead trying to push through the $2.8 billion spending bill two weeks after wrapping up their formal session for the year. In an informal session, debate and roll call votes are not allowed and a single lawmaker can kill a bill.

The bill would steer hundreds of millions of dollars to the state’s emergency shelters buckling under a crush of migrant and homeless families.

Demand for shelter has increased as temperatures drop and the state struggles to find newly arriving migrants places to stay after hitting a state-imposed limit of 7,500 families in its emergency homeless shelter system last month.

Republican lawmakers, in the minority in both chambers, have urged Democrats to split up the spending bill. GOP leaders say they support funding for overdue pay raises for state workers and disaster relief efforts but oppose funding for migrant families without significant reforms.

Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver Thursday to delay action on the measure until Friday when they again used the same maneuver to delay any action until Saturday.

Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano said Republicans are willing to jeopardize funding for other priorities in the nearly $3 billion bill because they oppose $250 million to help provide shelter for vulnerable families, including up to $50 million for an overflow site for homeless families stuck on a state wait list.

“House Democrats are committed to ensuring that this attempt at obstructionism fails,” Mariano said.

Minority Leader Bradley Jones said his fellow Republican lawmakers continue to have concerns about how the state is handling the migrant crisis.

“This is inevitably going to start to crowd out funding for things that people in the commonwealth want to see,” Jones told reporters Friday. “A number of my caucus members are getting calls from people that are concerned, that are worried and saying, ‘this isn’t right.’”

Although formal sessions are set to begin again in January, House Democrats could, if they chose, re-convene in a formal session at any time and take a vote on the spending bill.

Over 100 families are currently waiting for emergency shelter spaces.

To create more space in the shelter system, the state has worked with federal officials to help migrants get work authorizations needed to find a job. More than 1,700 migrants have applied for authorizations at a series of recent work clinics.

Nearly 500 families have exited shelters since Sept. 1, making room for other families.

The surge in demand is being driven in part by migrant families entering the state, officials said.

Last week, Catholic Charities Boston became first organization to be awarded a grant to provide temporary rooms for up to 27 extremely low-income families with children and pregnant individuals waiting for shelter spaces.

Democratic Gov. Maura Healey announced the $5 million grant program earlier this month.

The state also last week began letting up to 25 homeless families stay overnight in the state transportation building in Boston during the evening and overnight hours, officials said. During the day, the nearby YMCA of Greater Boston is providing the families food and recreational opportunities.

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