Janet Mills sparks firestorm by allowing welfare for non-citizens, LePage blasts decision

Governor Paul LePage (left) blasted Governor Janet Mills’ changes to welfare rules put into effect during his administration.

PORTLAND – For months, officials in the city of Portland have waited for the so-called “administrative change” that Governor Janet Mills was considering as a way to funnel state taxpayer dollars into their city to subsidize Portland’s municipal non-citizen welfare program. On Thursday, Mills announced that long-awaited decision.

The “emergency measure” announced by Governor Mills reinterprets state rules and allow Portland to collect a reimbursement of 70% of the funds they spend locally on non-citizen welfare.

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

The measure taken by Mills basically redefines what an “asylum seeker” is under the state’s general assistance welfare rules. The Mills administration’s interpretation basically defines anyone who says to be “pursuing a lawful process to apply for immigration relief” to collect state taxpayer funded welfare benefits through a municipality.

The interpretation is counter to the LePage administration’s interpretation of the rule.

Under the LePage interpretation, an individual was required to actually complete an asylum application before becoming eligible for welfare benefits.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Governor Paul LePage blasted Mills, “Maine cannot afford to underwrite unlimited welfare in Portland. Since Janet Mills has spent all the surplus, what will she cut to pay for this? Unfortunately, the closing nursing homes and our elderly and people with disabilities on waitlists are already paying the price. Who will be next?”

LePage’s statement, referencing Mills’ refusal to allow a bill providing funding for Maine nursing homes and the growing Section 21 waitlists of disabled Mainers waiting for services under Democrat control, was echoed by thousands of Mainers across social media on Thursday and Friday.

A statement issued by Governor Mills suggests, however, that she believes requiring a completed application for asylum as a requirement for eligibility is too great a burden. According to that statement, all that will be required is “reasonable good faith steps” being taken.

In fact, for many of the individuals, it may be more than they wish to do. Jason Owens, Maine’s Chief Border Protection official, has publicly stated that some of the individuals who made their way to Portland from the southern border did not present themselves at a U.S. Port of Entry to request asylum.

Instead, Owens said, they asked for asylum when they were apprehended by Border Patrol officers for crossing the border illegally.

READ MORE: Poliquin shows migrants in Portland entered illegally, says Dems refuse to fix problems

The proper process of seeking asylum is for an asylum seeker to present themselves to a port of entry with the United States, which provides immigration officials the opportunity to conduct interviews and complete appropriate paperwork for the asylum claim. Many liberal immigration advocates, however, advise individuals to seek asylum after crossing the border illegally, however, to avoid the scrutiny of interviews and other vetting that happens at United States ports of entry.

According to recent data provided to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleneenan, 90% of asylum seekers skip their court hearings.

On the Howie Carr Show, Chief Owens said that the migrants arrived with anywhere from $600 to $2,500 in cash on their persons, and that most had flown commercially to South America.

Owens said the migrants traveled to Portland because word of mouth has spread that Portland provides taxpayer funded welfare benefits.

As a backdrop to the changes by the Mills administration, the Trump administration, facing an ongoing crisis at the southern border, recently announced new federal rules governing the asylum process. The federal rule change will make individuals who failed to seek urgent asylum in other nations, or those who say they are only escaping a country for economic reasons, often termed “economic migants” instead of “asylum seekers.”

Published accounts of some of the individuals who the Mills administration would call “asylum seekers” in Portland show how those individuals spent months, or in some cases, years, in other countries before making the journey to the United States.

The new Trump administration rule didn’t seem to stop the Mills administration, however. Immediately after announcing that she was taking “emergency” measures to provide welfare to the individuals she had just redefined as “asylum seekers”, Mills sent a request to the federal government for funds to help shoulder the burden of her decision.

The city of Portland has long had a local municipal welfare program, paid for by Portland taxpayers. In the months before the current crisis, a debate had ensued about whether Portland taxpayers could afford to continue to foot the bill.

Amid that debate, Mayor Ethan Strimling took to the airwaves to go after President Trump and declare that Portland wanted more illegal immigrants. In the weeks that followed, more and more began to arrive.

READ MORE: Strimling calls for more illegal immigrants to Portland in response to President Trump’s tweets

Facing greater financial stress, some Portland officials sought to stem the tide, but Mayor Strimling continued to insist that the city could handle it.

Following Mills’ announcement, which many derided as a “bail-out” for Portland, Strimling thanked her, in a tacit admission that Portland needed the help.

Maine Examiner has previously covered discussions among Portland city officials suggesting that Mills was working on a plan to circumvent the Maine Legislature with a so-called “administrative change” such as the one Mills executed this week.

The Maine Legislature attempted to pass a bill to provide broad welfare benefits to non-citizens in the recent legislative session. That bill passed the Maine House with the support of Speaker Sara Gideon and Democrats, but the Maine Senate did not take up the bill before the end of the session.

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

According to information provided by the Mills administration, non-citizens will be eligible for 24-months of assistance. The rules announced by Mills went into effect immediately, but there will be a public comment period at a future date, which was not announced.

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