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Is Janet Mills lowballing the cost of welfare for non-citizens expansion?

Governor Janet Mills at her inauguration in January, 2019.

AUGUSTA – An Associated Press article covering Governor Janet Mills’ “emergency” rule change that provides state taxpayer funds to welfare for non-citizens programs in response to an influx of migrants in Portland says Mills believes the program will only cost “hundreds of thousands” of dollars, not millions. In the same article, however, the AP reports that the city of Portland has already received $820,000 in contributions to fund the welfare program.

But according to the state’s general assistance maximums and publicly available information, the change could lead to staggering amounts of spending well beyond the “hundreds of thousands” the Mills administration says will occur.

A 2017 memo on Maine’s General Assistance maximums from Maine DHHS shows that the General Assistance overall maximum in the Portland Metro area is $1,002 per person, $1,131 for a household of 2, or $1,431 per month for a household of 3.

According to the city of Portland, 300 individuals have been processed at the Portland Expo since June 9th.

If calculating that on average just those newly arrived individuals are now eligible for assistance as families of three, that would mean 100 “families” are now eligible for 24-months of assistance at a state maximum of $1,431 per month. That totals almost $3.5 million. Under the Mills administration decision, that would mean the state’s share (70%), would be about $2.4 million.

If some individuals qualify as individuals for assistance, instead of as part of two- and three-person households, that number could rise precipitously.

Further, individuals who were reportedly collecting some general assistance at the municipal level on Portland’s locally funded Community Support Fund are also now eligible for state General Assistance reimbursement at the same rate.

Those numbers do not account for how many more individuals will arrive seeking assistance in coming months either.

Speaking to the Bangor Daily News on July 13, Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said, “But as soon as we house someone we have other families show up, and so we’re not making a tremendous amount of progress in terms of getting people housed.”

Potentially exacerbating the problem is the national news coverage from media outlets such as the L.A. Times highlighting the Mills administration’s actions, which, according to some, is the equivalent of advertising for more individuals seeking government assistance to be sent to Portland.

Governor Janet Mills is already taking heat for blocking a bill that would provide funds to support Maine’s nursing homes and direct care workers while expanding welfare benefits to individuals who just arrived in Maine and have not yet completed applications for asylum.

If the influx of individuals seeking assistance continues at the current rate, or grows, Mills is likely to face even harsher criticism. Her expansion of benefits is likely to be seen, along with Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling’s calls to “bring them on”, as key factors that drew hundreds or thousands more individuals to Portland.

Governor Mills’ public statement that the welfare expansion will bolster Maine’s workforce in coming years also lends itself to the narrative that she actually wants more and more migrants in need of assistance to be sent to Portland.

An influx of hundreds or thousands more individuals in coming months, at the apparent wishes of Governor Mills and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling could push the cost to Maine taxpayers millions of dollars per year higher.

Governor Mills’ actions have already been covered by MSN, Fox News, L.A. Times, The Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, El Paso Inc. and many others. Many of those publications covering Governor Mills’ actions are widely read in regions dealing with the southern border crisis.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, many individuals who seek so-called “asylee” status in the United States fail to even appear at their court appearances. The federal government recently revised rules around the process of seeking asylum in the United States to restrict access to so-called “economic migrants.”

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