Lawmakers back divesting state funds tied to Russia, prepare for incoming refugees

  • State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. FILE PHOTO

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For the Gazette
Published: 4/1/2022 6:17:03 PM
Modified: 4/1/2022 6:16:34 PM

State lawmakers have approved the plan to divest the state’s pension funds from companies that have ties to Russia as part of the fiscal 2022 supplemental budget.

The House had rejected a similar proposal earlier this month, setting up negotiations that ironed out the differences between the two bills. The final draft of the spending bill now goes to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for approval.

“This is the way the state can engage and make a statement — add our opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” said state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

The proposal directs the state’s pension board to divest any holdings in companies incorporated in Russia or companies that have been sanctioned by the U.S. government in connection with Russia’s war in Ukraine. Those holdings would be identified by a third-party research company, the State House News Service reported.

According to the Pension Reserve Investment Board’s evaluation, approximately $140 million of the state’s $104 billion pension funds is tied up in Russia – 0.2% of the total funds.

The plan to divest the funds was introduced weeks ago but could not be agreed upon as the Russian stock markets were closed because of the war and the subsequent sanctions announced by world leaders.

Resettlement efforts

The fiscal 2022 supplemental budget will also direct $10 million to support the resettlement efforts for incoming Ukrainian refugees.

“In addition to critical investments in health care, education, transportation, infrastructure, and housing, this package also includes funding for the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees here in Massachusetts, ensuring that we do our part in the global effort to help those suffering from the war,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy.

The Biden administration recently announced that the U.S. will assist 100,000 refugees fleeing Russia’s war through a “full range of legal pathways,” such as the U.S. refugee admissions program.

According to officials, some refugees will also be provided with visas or humanitarian parole that allows temporary residence “for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

“Unfortunately, we are familiar with the process because we just went through it with Afghanistan,” said state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “There are still around 42,000 parole petitions pending for Afghan refugees.”

The funds to facilitate resettlement efforts will be allocated to local agencies by legislators and the Office for Refugees and Immigrants. Many organizations that have assisted with similar efforts in the past will once again be called into action.

“In moments like this, we are individually and collectively looking to contribute our moral voice and our labor,” said Rabbi Justin David of the Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton. “We have contributed volunteers to refugee programs like the one in Springfield, and we will be happy to do it again.”

The Springfield-based Jewish Family Services is one of the organizations that is expected to participate in the resettlements efforts as it has over the past decade.

“We will also be in touch with the community to know what their needs are, and how to offer support,” Sabadosa said. “We know, immediately, the needs are going to be housing and English language classes and probably financial contributions because the funds are just never enough. We are asking people to rebuild their lives when they come here. It is challenging.”

Aryan Rai writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program in Boston.

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