The Massachusetts House adopted four batches of amendments before passing its spending bill, including an increase in funding for resettlement agencies assisting Afghan and Haitian evacuees.
After releasing the $3.65 billion plan on Monday, the House on Thursday unanimously voted to add a $44.3 million collection of health, human services and education amendments, as well as an $11.7 million assortment of housing and food security amendments. When debate resumed Friday, representatives approved a $26.6 million slate of environment, climate and infrastructure package of amendments, and a $90.7 million set of amendments pertaining to workforce and economic development.
To become law, amendments passed in the House still need approval from the Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker.
The housing investments approved Thursday included proposals from Berkshire County representatives.
Adams and North Adams would receive $175,000 each to rehabilitate old housing units in an attempt to create opportunities for first-time home-buyers. Construct Inc., a Great Barrington-based nonprofit, would get $100,000 for a grant-matching program to support first-time home-buyers.
To cover renovation costs for Pittsfield’s Fenn Street homeless shelter, $250,000 would support the project, which seeks to reduce overcrowding and improve safety. Another $1 million would go toward the design and development of permanent supportive housing, possibly through a new facility, for people experiencing long-term homelessness in the county.
Another approved amendment would increase aid to resettlement agencies from $12 million to $20 million as they seek to connect Afghan and Haitian arrivals with support services. Massachusetts is expected to welcome 900 Afghan evacuees during the first wave of resettlement, and Jewish Family Services of Western Massachusetts plans to accommodate 60 people in Berkshire County. More than 100 Haitian families have arrived in Massachusetts as of mid-October, The Boston Globe reports, although the U.S. has sent some migrants back to Haiti.
While Afghan evacuees are sometimes referred to as “refugees,” most are classified as humanitarian parolees, meaning that they lack the legal status of people who come through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The U.S. Congress has approved funding to provide Afghan parolees some benefits that refugees receive, including access to resettlement benefits and driver’s licenses.
Parolee status provides only temporary residence, and Afghan parolees will have to apply for asylum to stay longer. The Massachusetts amendment includes $4.5 million for “resettlement agencies to assist humanitarian parolees from Afghanistan and Haiti with obtaining a secure immigration status in the United States.”