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The state's shelter system is overwhelmed. What can Massachusetts lawmakers do?

Mass. Gov. Maura Healey speaks to the Joint Ways and Means Committee during the initial hearing on her fiscal 2025 budget proposal on Feb. 7, 2024.
Sam Doran
Mass. Gov. Maura Healey speaks to the Joint Ways and Means Committee during the initial hearing on her fiscal 2025 budget proposal on Feb. 7, 2024.

In two different polls released last week, it became clear that immigration and border control is the paramount issue for Massachusetts voters. Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are seeing firsthand how that migrant surge stresses the state's budget and emergency shelter system, and Gov. Maura Healey in the state's congressional delegation continued to pressure the federal government to provide a solution. Chris Lisinski, of the State House News Service explains what the governor is expected to do.

Chis Lisinksi, SHNS: The governor is really pressed into a position here of trying to come up with ways to solve a problem that is just not getting any federal help. We saw last week the collapse of federal legislation to put in place some reforms to the immigration system, some new border controls, and steer funding to states that we're not sure how much it would have been for Massachusetts, but it certainly would have helped relieve the pressure.

So, the governor is kind of put back in the position she has been for months now. The demand on the system has not abated. We have a cap on the number of families the system can help. It's been in place since the fall, and still more and more people continue to join a waitlist. And now Healey’s in kind of an unenviable position of trying to convince state lawmakers to open the purse strings and put even more state dollars toward the services that people need, with what it looks like, at least right now, very little prospect of federal help coming.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Now, on a separate topic, Chris, but one that could also affect the state's bottom line. Top House Democrats last week signaled they would not support a bailout for a number of financially unstable hospitals in the state. Does the state have a process like receivership to scaffold the health care system?

Yeah, at least as far as I know, I don't think there's much of a process or a precedent for the state stepping in and taking over hospital operations, putting hospitals into receivership. I think that if they were going to do something like that, rather than just direct money to the situation, they would first need to figure out what the steps would look like before they could even embark on a debate of whether or not to pull the trigger and get the state involved. We know that the Executive Office of Health and Human Services is really closely involved in talks with Steward [Health Care]. We know that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has people on the ground monitoring how things are going in Steward facilities, but other than that, we really don't know the contours of what the state's involvement is. So, I'd say it's a really open question at this point.

Speaking of health care, a recent national statistic on health insurance coverage says a fifth of all Americans who were deemed no longer eligible for Medicaid and who moved on to their state's marketplace plan, used the Massachusetts Health Connector. You reported on this story, Chris, can you put that stat into context?

You know, keep in mind that not every single state has a state marketplace the way we have the Massachusetts Health Connector, here. But if you're just thinking in terms of population, Massachusetts isn't all that big. So, for one fifth of all people who went from Medicaid to a plan through a state marketplace to be here in Massachusetts, that's really… disproportionate. That's a way larger share than just our size here in the Bay state. According to Marissa Altman, the Connector's chief of policy, we've had more people sign up for health insurance plans through the connector than even states like California, which has way, way, way more people than us. Connector officials, unsurprisingly, are seeing this as a real sign of success for them and the options offered here in the Bay state.

You know, last week there was a big deadline on Wednesday for committees in the Legislature to decide which bills are still under consideration and which are dead. Any surprises? What legislation are we keeping an eye out for now?

There were a couple pretty noteworthy bills that actually basically got spiked. They were sent to studies, which, as I think you and I have discussed, is Legislative speak for we're going to stuff this in a corner and not think about it until the term ends and it expires. That includes legislation that would have lifted the state system of setting caps on liquor licenses at the local level, and basically give cities and towns more authority over liquor licensing, an idea that Governor Healey supported but wound up not pursuing with her own legislation. That one is in a dead-end “study order.” And some of the biggest bills are kind of in the mix, without a real decision one way or another. Committees gave themselves more time to decide about bills that would allow rent control to come back in certain communities and legislation that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to direct some 18, 19, and 20-year-olds0-toward juvenile court instead of typical court for adults.

So not, a certain future, but also not a sudden death.

Exactly. They're still in the mix. Committees say 'we need more time to figure out what we're going to do with this last session,' we saw the Transportation Committee extend its deadline on the bill allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. That wound up becoming law and was actually probably one of the most significant accomplishments of the term. So, just because something got extended at the deadline does not really give you a sense one way or the other.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.

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