The town’s ability to ask for the funds was made possible after State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump determined in October that forcing municipalities to pay the cost of transporting and educating homeless students living in motels and emergency shelters equates to an unfunded mandate.
The Danvers Board of Selectman voted unanimously last week to have Town Manager Wayne Marquis craft the letter after State Rep. Ted Speliotis (D-Danvers) came before them to say he will put a line item in the supplemental state budget that would reimburse Danvers some of the costs of transporting homeless children this year.
“We’re going rely on the representative using his legislative influence and long term membership in the legislature to get this passed,” Board of Selectmen Chair Dan Bennett said. “The ball is in his court.”
Speliotis said the town is expected to pay $140,000 to $150,000 this year for the education expenses of homeless children living in Danvers.
“I asked [the selectmen] to write a letter to the House Ways and Means chair and the Speaker [of the House] requesting that we do a supplemental budget request to handle the transportation cost and mandated education costs for homeless,” Speliotis said.
A supplemental budget closes funding gaps in the state’s annual budget. The state passed a supplemental budget in the fall and Speliotis hopes they will pass another one in a few months. But he said a supplemental budget is never guaranteed.
“We need to be in position to advocate for that and I need that support,” Speliotis said. “This has been the third or fourth year that the town has had to add this expense. Once we now ruled the expense ought to be paid by the Commonwealth I think we need to meet our obligation.”
The issue has been in contention since Speliotis asked Bump’s office more than a year ago to review the state's participation in the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which gives homeless families placed in temporary housing by the state the option to attend school in their home district or the district where they are sheltered.
Under the act, if a family chooses to send children to school in their home district, the cost must be shared by that district and the district where the shelter is located. Bump determined the act wasn’t a federal mandate because the state chose to participate in it nearly a decade ago.
Danvers has decreased the number of homeless students living in motels from 147 this summer to 101 through the use of the state’s HomeBase program. The program provides about $4,000 to homeless families so they can pay back rent and not have to move into a hotel or motel.
Statewide the program has reduced the number of homeless families in hotels and motels by 27 percent, Speliotis said.
“So that’s huge, but like I said it’s become very costly,” he said.
Despite Speliotis’ advocacy for the town, Bennett said he’s not confident that the funding will come through because Danvers is only one of a handful of towns in this position.
“I have no confidence in the legislature to be able to fund money,” he said. “One, where are they going to get the money from and, two, it doesn’t affect a lot of cities and towns. … It’s frustrating for these people that they are stuck in the hotels and that the state doesn’t provide adequate housing.
"It’s an easy way out to stick them in hotels. That’s the problem, there’s no affordable housing. That’s really the larger issue.”
Nevertheless, Bennett said the board will continue its lobbying efforts to be reimbursed for transportation homeless students to other districts.
“We’re just going to keep following through, keep writing to the legislators involved and let these folks know,” he said. “It’s really a matter of outreach, letting the legislature know what the issue is and what the problem is.”
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.