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October 16, 2013

State spending tackles surge in homelessness

BOSTON — The state’s House today will debate a spending bill to close the books on fiscal 2013 — and plug a major budget hole created by a surge in homelessness.

The $74.6 million spending bill, nudged forward Tuesday by the House after it was filed on Friday by the House Ways and Means Committee, includes new spending and authorizations to carry over unspent funding from fiscal 2013 into fiscal 2014.

The bill allocates more than $8 million for Secretary of State William Galvin to reimburse cities and towns for special election costs and $16 million for MassHealth fee-for-service payments.

The bill also calls for Watertown to receive $81,517 to reimburse the town for expenses incurred during the public safety response to the Boston Marathon bombing in April that were not eligible for federal reimbursement.

One of the largest amounts of new spending included in the bill comes for families seeking shelter in hotels and motels following a “surge” in homelessness over the summer. The House bill would dedicate $13 million in additional resources to pay for the shelter programs, about $7 million less than requested by Gov. Deval Patrick.

At a forum in Boston last week, Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein discussed a “huge increase in homelessness” among Massachusetts families that spiked over the summer as the number of families being sheltered in hotels and motels jumped from 1,230 in April to 1,710 in August.

“We’re really working every day to try and reduce the numbers of families in the motels, but it’s become very difficult over the summer,” Gornstein said. “But we’re deploying every resource we possibly can to make a dent into that problem.”

The Patrick administration has been focused on using rental assistance vouchers and support programs to keep families out of costly shelter programs, but the numbers seeking shelter in motels reached an all-time high of 2,038 families last Friday, up from 1,230 in April and eclipsing the previous high of 1,803 in November 2012.

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