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Democrats hide costs, approve Maine welfare for non-citizens bill allowing DHHS to take from other programs

Speaker Sara Gideon bangs the gavel approving a bill to give non-citizens state taxpayer funded welfare benefits. Also pictured, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Drew Gattine (D – Westbrook)

AUGUSTA – On paper, the bill to provide welfare for non-citizens in Maine doesn’t cost anything, at least according to a decision by the Maine House of Representatives to strip the bill of its $14+ million fiscal note. That doesn’t mean the spending won’t happen, but now the spending will not face the scrutiny and restrictions that items that are placed in the state budget face.

The move came as the legislature was wrapping up business, after the legislature had already approved the state budget and the spending of the remaining $6 million after the budget deal was struck was also agreed to.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Drew Gattine, restores state-funded welfare benefits to non-citizens, including those who have not yet filed for asylum, in Maine’s food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid and TANF programs.

Instead of actually identifying the money and putting it in the budget, the House directed Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services to use existing resources to provide the welfare benefits.

That move allows administrators at DHHS to move funds that were appropriated to other programs into funding for welfare for non-citizens.

The original $14 million fiscal note was created before the new influx of migrants into Portland, so the cost of the benefits could rise beyond the original estimate in the fiscal note, which has now been modified to include no cost.

Maine DHHS manages many programs with funds which could become vulnerable if administrators run short on funds for non-citizen welfare. Those programs include supports for Maine’s elderly and disabled citizens, pregnant mothers, low-income families and others.

The Maine House passed the bill by a vote of 88-59 before stripping the costs out of the bill, they then voted to strip the costs from the fiscal note by a similar margin.

The passage of the bill includes an admission in the new “fiscal note” which says “Without additional funding, the impact of these new provisions on other programs and services in the DHHS cannot be determined at this time.”

That fiscal note “eliminates” the cost of more than $14 million in the upcoming two year budget and nearly $29 million through fiscal year 2022-23, but authorizes the state to spend that money anyway.

The bill has been expected to serve as the vehicle through which Legislative Democrats and Governor Janet Mills would provide funding to an influx of new non-citizens who arrived in Portland in recent weeks. Some Republicans are calling the bill a “bail out” for Portland’s Mayor Ethan Strimling, who has called for more and more people to be sent to Portland from the southern border, despite the acknowledgement by some Portland officials that the city can’t afford it.

Speaker Sara Gideon led the passage of the bill, voting for it in both the original passage and the amendment to strip out the actual costs.

The bill was opposed both times by Republicans and supported by Democrats, with some liberal independents joining them to support the bill.

You can read both roll call votes by clicking the links below, a “Y” indicates support of the bill, an “N” indicates opposition to the bill.

First roll call: Click here.

Second roll call: Click here.

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