House and Senate include disaster relief funding in supplemental bills

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Massachusetts State House
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Two months after heavy flash flooding damaged homes and infrastructure in North Attleborough, the state legislature is taking measures to provide relief.

The Massachusetts House and Senate passed two supplemental budget bills with funding for towns and cities affected by flood disasters. The House’s bill, H1467, was passed on Nov. 8, and the Senate’s bill, S2505, was passed on Nov. 14.

In a speech on the House floor on Nov. 8, Rep. Adam Scanlon (D-North Attleborough) said his constituents have waited patiently for relief and thanked House leadership for including the measure in the supplemental bill.

“Residents saw the water go from trickling in their garages to pouring in their front doors within 35 minutes, rising ultimately, in some places, up to their heights,” Scanlon said. “This was in some places that had never seen flooding before,”

The bills would allow the Executive Office for Administration and Finance to distribute relief money to municipalities based on criteria set by the office. In addition, the bills would infuse $250 million into the state’s shelter system to accommodate the growing number of homeless and immigrant families in Massachusetts.

Though the House and Senate agreed on disaster relief and funding the state’s shelter system, legislative leaders could not pass either bill on Nov. 15, the final formal session day of 2023. The legislature’s failure to act was based on a disagreement about how the $250 million in shelter funding should be used. The House’s bill required the Healey administration to create one overflow site within 30 days for families unable to access shelter, while the Senate’s bill had no such stipulation. In addition, the House’s bill allocates $12 million in relief funding, but the Senate’s bill would give $15 million.

Because of these disagreements, a conference committee has been formed to create a compromise bill that can pass both chambers, but it is still being determined whether a bill will be passed before 2024. Town Manager Michael Borg said the legislature should find a compromise quickly to help the residents whose homes have been flooded.

“We would like the legislature to step up to the plate,” Borg said bluntly. “I want to remind our elected officials that our residents need assistance. Nothing works in bureaucracy when it gets in the way.”

According to Borg, the Town Council spent $300,000 to clean up debris from the storm. These cleanup efforts by the Department of Public Works include reopening Old Post Road, repairing Old Post Bridge and replacing the drainage system on Hoppin Hill Road. In addition, Borg said the town is collaborating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to determine if North Attleborough is eligible to receive relief funding from the federal government.

“I encourage our legislators to keep pursuing actions and initiatives to provide fruitful results to help our residents,” Borg said. “We stepped up and now it’s time for the legislature to do the same.”

Some residents, such as Kristine Bonneau, have been posting on social media and talking to residents about her experience to raise awareness about flood damage in an attempt to have the state ask the federal government to provide relief for the town through FEMA.

Bonneau, whose home on Paine Road became uninhabitable after sustaining flood damage, said she received support from her family, friends and fellow residents. She said she will continue to speak on behalf of the 200 homeowners whose houses were damaged during the flood.

“There are no definitive answers as to why this happened,” Bonneau said. “Never had a drop of water before this and then in the past month since, we have had three flood watches, a tornado, a hurricane and endless days of rain.”