From the Beacon, November 2023

As I began thinking about my column for this month, I looked back at the November 2022 Beacon for guidance and perspective. What I was surprised to find was a front page headline, flanked by a photo of former Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, emphasizing the dire nature of the migrant emergency sheltering crisis. It surprised me because much of the recent coverage of this critical issue suggests a certain novelty to the influx of migrant families to the state. This of course belies the fact that the crisis facing the Commonwealth has been some time in the making.

Seeing the headline from last year got me thinking about what is most critically needed at the local level as local government officials and community members work tirelessly to welcome migrant families into their cities and towns and ensure that they are provided access to humane living conditions, necessary physical and mental health care, and education and care for their children of varying ages.

I see three main areas in which municipalities need support: finances, capacity, and a third area involving employment, child care and permanent housing for migrant families that I’ll call “pathways.”

The state has been doing a good job in providing per student, per diem funding to school districts. Cities and towns are relying on this funding in order to ensure that there are enough teachers, translators and other resources to adequately serve the children of the migrant families that are now attending schools across the Commonwealth. The MMA will continue to advocate for this funding to be sustained in state budget bills.

Another area in the realm of finances relates to the local-option hotel/motel excise tax and the potential disruption of this important local revenue stream. State officials have informed local governments that they can only be assured of receiving this excise tax payment for the first 90 days of a stay at a hotel or motel. This is of course extremely problematic for local governments, as they have set their budgets months ago and are relying on these revenues to set their tax rates and end their fiscal year with a balanced budget. The Commonwealth needs to find a way to address this problem in order to keep cities and towns whole, and thereby prepared for the continued provision of services to the migrant families.

Cities and towns of all sizes are hosting families through the emergency sheltering program, but some communities, particularly smaller ones, need state help with building the capacity necessary for providing the basic needs of the migrant families. At last week’s briefing hosted by the MMA, we heard from a community on the South Shore expressing serious concerns about the lack of essentials and hygienic products that are needed by these families. The state needs to continue to develop ways to rapidly respond to these needs so that communities are better prepared and supported in meeting the basic needs of families that are arriving.

Perhaps more than anything else, both the migrant families and cities and towns need the state and federal government to cooperate on the development of pathways to employment, pathways to accessing affordable child care, and pathways to finding, securing and maintaining permanent housing.

This first pathway lies squarely in the hands of the federal government. The migrants that have arrived are willing and ready to work, but they need the federal government to authorize them to do so. The MMA has joined the Healey-Driscoll administration in imploring the Biden administration to act on this need with requisite haste. Absent employment, it will be nearly impossible for these families to establish a stable life here in the Commonwealth.

Following this, the state needs to work with providers to ensure that safe and affordable child care is available to these families. Without this care, it will be hard for these families to work, thereby once again creating a significant impediment to creating a stable life here in the Commonwealth.

Finally, the state, in partnership with local government, needs to begin work on developing pathways to affordable housing for these migrant families. Given the current shortage of available housing in the Commonwealth, this is no small task, but it is still one that needs to be addressed with a combination of urgency and planfulness.

Written by Adam Chapdelaine, MMA Executive Director & CEO