AUGUSTA – On a day when much of Maine’s news media was covering other stories, such as a proposal to require state law to use gender neutral language, a proposal to provide Maine taxpayer funded welfare benefits to non-citizens was being approved by the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
Those benefits won’t come cheap, as the committee was told state taxpayers would have to kick in well over $14 million in the coming state budget to provide for the cash benefits, SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid eligibility outlined in the bill.
The price tag may present a problem for lawmakers, as Governor Janet Mills’ budget already, according to the Legislature’s non-partisan budget analysts, spends more than the state will collect in revenue in the second year.
A number of state lawmakers, including two Democrats from
Lewiston, Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby and Rep. Kristen Cloutier, along
with the bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Drew Gattine (D – Westbrook), testified in
favor of the bill.
Other supporters of the proposal included a slew of liberal special interest groups that advocate for expansion of welfare benefits and other programs for non-citizens.
Under the proposal, 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 Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee approved the
proposal on a party line vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans
Welfare benefits for non-citizens were rolled back by Republicans
under Paul LePage and have been a point of contention in the Maine Legislature
ever since, largely due to insistence by Democrat lawmakers that funding cash
benefits, food stamps and Medicaid for non-citizens should be a higher priority
in Maine’s state budget.
Republicans, in response, point to waiting lists for disabled
Mainers waiting for services, the number of nursing homes that have closed
across Maine largely due to low reimbursement rates, and a need to provide
better services to veterans as priorities that should be put ahead of handing
out taxpayer funded welfare benefits to non-citizens.
Under the LePage welfare reform, non-citizens who were elderly,
disabled, victims of domestic violence, who had other hardships, or were
unemployed but had obtained proper work documentation were allowed to continue
In the cash benefits portion of the proposal approved yesterday, 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
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.
The bill will now be sent to the Maine House of Representatives and Maine Senate for consideration. Gattine’s proposal does that by saying that the person must receive the same amount of money that they would receive if they were eligible for the federal supplemental security income program.