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Gov. Mills may bypass Legislature to expand welfare for non-citizens in Portland

Screenshot from the city of Portland’s live stream of the Finance Committee where the Mills administration’s “administrative change” to expand welfare to more non-citizens was discussed, and to the left, a picture of Governor Janet Mills signing a document as
lawmakers look on.

AUGUSTA – The city of Portland is working with senior advisors to Governor Janet Mills to make changes that would allow the city to expand welfare benefits to more non-citizens at state taxpayer expense after Mayor Ethan Strimling’s national call for more illegal immigrants to be sent there amid the crisis at the nation’s southern border.

Those changes are likely to occur without a vote of the Maine Legislature.

At a city finance committee meeting last Thursday, when the committee was discussing the Portland Community Support Fund, which was created in 2015 as a short term fund to help existing non-citizens with benefits for a limited period of time, a city official told the committee he is in communication with Governor Janet Mills’ Chief of Staff about the change.

Tracking back to previous council discussions, city officials are hoping that the Mills administration will make an “administrative change” that would allow more non-citizens in Portland to qualify for state reimbursed general assistance welfare benefits even if they have an expired visa or have not applied for asylum. The city’s hope for that change was reported by the Portland Press Herald on Monday.

Currently, Maine cities can receive up to a 90% reimbursement from the state of Maine under rules set forth by the state for most G.A. recipients, but not those covered under Portland’s policy that created the Portland Community Support Fund.

The finance committee was discussing ways that costs and funds might be shifted to the city’s General Assistance fund, which is reimbursed by the state, and the influx of new non-citizens coming to the city when City Council member Belinda Ray looked at City Manager Jon Jennings and asked, “I realize it’s only been three days, any news on the administrative change from the Mills administration?”

“The Governor’s Chief of Staff and I have exchanged texts to try and see if we can set up that, uh, meeting, but as the council knows, I did reach out to Jeanne Lambrew and they are working on the administrative change,” replied Jennings.

Jeanne Lambrew is the Commissioner of Maine’s Health and Human Services Department and would oversee any administrative or rule changes in the state’s General Assistance program eligibility and reimbursement policies. She was formerly a top official in the Obama administration.

Mayor Strimling then chimed in, “You know, obviously the administrative change solves a lot of problems, so if that happens we don’t need to worry about a whole lot of this stuff, so I’m sort of, I just try to operate in a world where that doesn’t happen so that we are ready.”

Mills has long sought to provide greater welfare benefits to non-citizens. As Attorney General, Mills blocked efforts by Governor Paul LePage to restrict access to some welfare benefits for non-citizens. Shortly after becoming Governor, Mills supported rule changes to restore some other welfare benefits to non-citizens.

The discussion around an administrative change to provide more non-citizens welfare benefits suggests that the Mills administration is not going to go through the Maine Legislature to address the issue.

The Portland Community Support Fund has run over budget, with, according to city officials, more than 275 non-citizens ineligible for traditional General Assistance utilizing the benefits of the fund this year.

The fund was originally designed to provide welfare benefits to non-citizens who could not qualify for the regular general assistance benefits which receive. But now, as some want to wind the program down, others, led by Strimling, are pushing to continue it.

An effort by the Mills administration to make an “administrative” change could mean that welfare benefits would be expanded to non-citizens who currently are not eligible without seeking the approval of lawmakers in Augusta.

During the meeting last week, the Finance Committee also learned that the Mayor of a city in Texas has purchased bus tickets to Portland for non-citizens who have crossed the border illegally in his state. That situation arose from the system in Texas being overwhelmed to what officials there called a crisis.

You can watch the video of the meeting by clicking here. The conversation covered in this article starts at about 9:01 pm in the video stream.

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