Maine welfare for non-citizens bill approved by committee, big price tag revealed

Three of the lawmakers who submitted testimony in favor of providing cash, food stamps and other welfare benefits to non-citizens. Left: Senator Nate Libby (D – Lewiston), Center: Rep. Kristen Cloutier (D – Lewiston), Right: Rep. Drew Gattine (D – Westbrook). Photos courtesy of Maine Legislature website.

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.

Read Also: Cash and food stamps for non-citizens? Maine Legislature is considering it

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 benefits.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee approved the proposal on a party line vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing.

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 receiving SNAP.

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 legally.

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.

You can read the bill in full by clicking here.

To read the official fiscal note, which shows how much this proposal is estimated to cost, click here.

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