Healey files supplemental budget with nearly $300M for emergency assistance; school meals to remain free
BOSTON — As the first month of her tenure fades into later and later sunsets, Gov. Maura Healey filed an almost $300 million supplemental budget bill Monday to fill economic gaps left by federal financial assistance programs that are ending.
The announcement came in the afternoon as leaders in the House, Senate and the Healey administration met to discuss priorities. As they gathered in the Statehouse hallway in front of Senate President Karen Spilka’s office, the legislative leaders pointed out that the federal government must step up to address questions — immigration reform among them — that affect Massachusetts and the daily lives of its residents.
“We must continue to press the federal government on immigration reform,” Healey said. “Whatever federal funds are available, we will make the most of.”
Spilka also pointed out that the state has stepped in where the federal government has failed to act including funding initiatives that are within Washington’s purview.
The $282 million spending bill, now going to the House for action, would allocate funds to shore up several of the state’s emergency aid programs.
Baker bill shelved at the start of new session
Former Gov. Charlie Baker filed a similar request for additional funds, earmarked to bolster the state’s emergency aid programs and destined specifically to help an expected influx of migrants seeking asylum. That supplemental $139 million was not enacted by the Legislature.
House Speaker Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, spoke appreciatively of the Healey bill, noting that “this administration gave us real numbers. There will be a change in how we do business,” Mariano said.
Healey’s request included $85 million to meet shelter needs of existing residents, as well as the needs of immigrants expected to seek asylum in Massachusetts.
Of that sum, $65 million is slated for the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to expand the number of emergency shelter units to provide safe, temporary shelter to vulnerable families.
Projections indicate that the state needs at least 1,100 shelter units, according to a statement issued by the governor’s office.
Another $22 million would be allocated to support schools through the 2023-24 academic year to help enroll students placed in new districts, both residents who have been moved to shelters due to family financial circumstances, as well as an expected influx of immigrant families.
The biggest chunk of the bill, $130 million, would provide what the administration called an “off-ramp,” or a transition from the extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that had been allocated to recipients by the federal government during the COVID-19 crisis. Those extra benefits are slated to end in March.
Free school meals to continue
The proposed “off-ramp” would continue to send supplemental funds for three months at about 40% of the current funding level, to more than 630,000 Massachusetts families.
Another $65 million has been earmarked to ensure that the free universal school meals available for all public school students in Massachusetts would not run out of money.
That program, enacted as an emergency allocation in response to COVID-19 throughout the U.S. was funded through 2021. Resistance to extending the program by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Tennessee, ensured that accesses to school meals was denied to more than 30 million children in the country.
“No one wants to see kids go hungry,” Healey said of the allocation. “No one wants to see kids go without food, without meals.”
The state “stepped in,” Spilka said. The state legislature allocated $110 million to the project which apparently is short of the funds necessary. The supplement would ensure that the program is funded through the spring. “Kids can’t learn when they are hungry.”
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Gov. Maura Healey's supplemental budget shores up Massachusetts emergency aid; food, shelter