A conference committee has been named to work out differences between fiscal 2024 supplemental budget bills passed by the House and Senate that would provide funding for the state’s emergency shelter system, while codifying pandemic-era authorizations related to outdoor dining.

On March 21, the Senate passed its version of the bill (S. 2711), which would appropriate $25 million while authorizing the Executive Office for Administration and Finance to expend up to $825 million from the state’s transitional escrow account to fund ongoing emergency shelter needs through the end of fiscal 2025. The transitional escrow account was created in recent fiscal years when the state realized substantial surplus revenue.

The Senate bill includes $10 million for additional support of the Emergency Assistance program, targeting flexible housing intervention to preserve tenancies, additional administrative support for securing federal work permits, and employment training.

Both the House and Senate bills include policy provisions aimed at putting limitations on the length of stay in emergency shelters. Under the House bill, passed on March 6, families would have nine consecutive months of eligibility if unemployed, or 12 months if employed, with some exceptions. The Senate bill has a similar nine-month stay cap, but would allow families that meet certain criteria to be eligible for 90-day extensions.

Some of the Senate bill’s shelter funding would be dedicated to workforce development, with the goal of helping families exit the system. The Senate bill also would create a special commission to review safety practices at all shelter sites and develop a comprehensive safety plan to address all recommendations that result from the review.

The $260 million House bill is a modified version of a $375 million fiscal 2024 supplemental budget bill that Gov. Maura Healey filed in January.

Roughly 7,500 families are enrolled in the state’s emergency assistance shelter program, according to the administration’s shelter data dashboard, with about half of them living in overflow accommodations in hotels and motels in 100 or so communities across the state.

Regarding pandemic-era authorizations, both the House and Senate bills would codify local licensing authority for permits for expanded outdoor dining. The House version would codify the allowance of to-go cocktails with take out food orders, while the Senate bill would not. Both of these provisions are set to expire on April 1.

In consideration of the upcoming deadline, the House had rolled in the outdoor dining and to-go cocktail provisions that the governor had proposed in her Municipal Empowerment Act, which she filed in January.

On March 18, Healey filed an additional fiscal 2024 supplemental budget bill aimed at funding human services and early education programs. The second bill, totalling $535 million, would be funded primarily through federal reimbursements, using just over $88 million in state spending. That bill is now with the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Written by Jackie Lavender Bird, MMA Deputy Legislative Director and Ali DiMatteo, MMA Legislative Analyst