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Bill might provide state welfare benefits for Congolese migrants in Portland as Gov. Mills heads to town

Mayor Ethan Strimling & Governor Janet Mills
Mayor Ethan Strimling & Governor Janet Mills

AUGUSTA – A bill that is currently sitting in the Maine House could end up providing state taxpayer funded welfare benefits for the hundreds of recently arrived migrants from Congo and Angola that the city is struggling to keep pace with.

That bill, L.D. 1317, has worked through the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee and been approved in a party line vote, with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed.

The language of the bill does not restrict access to welfare benefits to only those non-citizens who are going through a lawful immigration process.

Instead, under the proposal, that will be voted on by lawmakers, even non-citizens who are not in the United States legally and have not filed for asylum in the United States would qualify for the benefits.

In the cash benefits portion of the proposal, a non-citizen would not need to be present legally in the United States, although those here legally would qualify. Instead it would allow non-citizens who have submitted a request for immigration relief, or those who verify they are taking ‘reasonable steps’ to pursue immigration relief.

It is unclear from the language in the proposed law what ‘reasonable steps’ to pursue immigration relief would mean, but the bill clearly would provide Maine taxpayer funded benefits to non-citizens who have not yet filed the appropriate requests to be present in the United States legally.

The proposal would also extend Maine’s Medicaid benefits to this group of individuals.

The cash benefits would be equal to what an American can receive from the federal supplemental income program.

News reports indicate that more than 100 individuals from Congo and Angola have already arrived in Portland after Mayor Ethan Strimling publicly declared he wanted more migrants sent to his city. Several hundred more are expected, so many in fact, that Portland officials are putting out 350 cots in the Portland Expo because overflow sites are at full capacity. They report that the facility has a capacity of about 600 cots.

The fiscal note on the bill in Augusta to provide welfare benefits to non-citizens who have yet to file for asylum or legal status was estimated to cost more than $14 million, but that price tag could swell by millions more with the inflow of hundreds more people.

Yesterday, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan testified before the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee that 90% of asylum seekers do not attend their court dates after being released into the United States, according to the New York Post.

Tomorrow, Governor Janet Mills is reported to be heading to Portland to meet with local officials about what resources the state of Maine can provide to assist the city.

You can read the full text of the bill covered in this article by clicking here.

The bill currently is in the “Unfinished Business” part of the calendar of the Maine House, meaning it can be brought up for a vote at any time.

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