Lewiston mayor suggests law to limit out-of-state welfare-seekers

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald, listens during a conversation with a group of local Somali residents at the Blue Nile Cafe in Lewiston on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012.

LEWISTON — A meeting between parents and local school officials got ugly Wednesday night when Mayor Robert Macdonald suggested a legislative remedy to discourage “Brockton,” Mass., welfare seekers from moving to Lewiston.

The meeting, held at the Geiger Elementary School, was hosted by school officials to get parents’ input on a plan to redistrict city schools to ease overcrowding. After more than two hours of discussion, Macdonald spoke up, asking for the crowd’s support for legislation to strengthen an existing five-year cap on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, known as TANF, and possibly extending that cap to General Assistance benefits.

Restricting access to General Assistance, Macdonald said, could result in 1,000 fewer students in Lewiston schools by the end of the school year, and could ease overcrowding in schools because welfare-seeking families would move away when benefits disappeared.

According to Lewiston School Committee member Sonia Taylor, the mayor said that “people come from Massachusetts and New York to Lewiston for welfare” and “they are lazy and their children are lazy in school.”

“It was offensive,” she said. “What he was proposing was not a solution, wanting to get rid of kids,” and she couldn’t support his view.

On Thursday, acknowledging he spoke to Geiger parents in anger, causing some parents to shout at him, the mayor stood by his comments.

“What’s happening here is a lot of people are coming in, all these welfare people, from out of state because of our welfare generosity,” Macdonald said, making it clear he was not referencing refugees.

The out-of-staters come from “a generation of welfare. They could care less about going to school. They don’t feel like they’re going to work anyway,” he said, and so they disrupt classrooms and there’s little teachers or administrations can do because the “parents don’t do anything.”

The difference between these welfare seekers and refugees, he said, “is that the refugees go to school to get an education because they are planning to get a job.”

Macdonald told parents he believed the city and the School Department had been “dealt a bad hand by the present welfare system,” according to Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster.

Macdonald said Thursday that anyone who doesn’t support redistricting shouldn’t be mad at Webster because overcrowding “is not his fault, but he’s got to do something.”

The trend of welfare-seekers coming to Lewiston and overburdening budgets and classrooms has been a “problem long before Bill Webster,” Macdonald said.

“I was awful and I wasn’t fair," he said of Wednesday's comments, "but if this welfare law is put into place there would be, at the end of the year, over 1,000 kids off the rolls in Lewiston because their parents would have gone elsewhere because they would no longer get support” from General Assistance.

Taylor said she was disappointed to hear the mayor talk like that. "I like to back him up when I can, but he crossed the line,” she said, by speculating on reduced student numbers.

The other problem the city faces, according to Macdonald, is in the breadth of services available to teens. These programs, like New Beginnings, he said, are full of teens who “left home because they don’t want to follow the rules." Then they go to school and their bad behavior spills over onto everybody else, affecting teachers’ ability to work in their classrooms. And, he said, while teachers will complain about this to friends and family, they don’t complain to administrators “because they’re afraid to lose their jobs.”

He believes fewer generational welfare recipients in city schools would improve classroom behavior. As it is, he said, Lewiston families send their children to school to learn in a disruptive environment.

“It’s not fair that your kid goes to school and is denied an education,” Macdonald said, because an out-of-stater misbehaves.

Last year, as part of Gov. Paul LePage’s budget, Maine imposed a five-year limit on TANF recipients, but if a family reaches that limit they are permitted to seek General Assistance in the towns where they live.

That’s not how it was supposed to work, Macdonald said Thursday. “The spirit of the law was that, after five years, you should have gotten job training and got off” all public assistance. Instead, the TANF cap has simply moved more welfare costs to municipalities.

Last year, when TANF benefits expired and hundreds of families turned to their local General Assistance offices for support, the Mayors Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development — including mayors in Auburn and Lewiston — urged action to create a five-year lifetime limit on other welfare programs, including GA, to ease the burden on municipal budgets.

That idea failed to gain traction at the State House after coalition member Portland Mayor Michael Brennan opposed it, but Macdonald is determined to see the idea reintroduced to chill out-of-state welfare-seekers from moving to Maine and, in particular to Lewiston. The mayors' coalition has already unanimously voted to seek a sponsor.

Last year, that sponsor was Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, who represents Kennebunk and part of Biddeford in the Legislature, and Macdonald is confident Casavant will sponsor its reintroduction.

Casavant was not available for comment Thursday.

In addition to working toward an expanded cap, Macdonald said Lewiston — “the only city in the state that prosecutes welfare fraud” — will be stepping up its crackdown on fraud in the coming weeks.

Staff Writer Bonnie Washuk contributed to this report.


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 's picture


In my opinion if/when someone reaches the 60 months TANF max and has not gone to school or used the training programs to make it so they can get a job and support their kids then yes they should lose their cash.....they are still receiving food stamps and free health insurance...so they are still eating and able to seek medical attention. If these people have exhausted 60 months of TANF why should they be able to go to the town and have the town pay their rent? Buy them household supplies? They used the system long enough...the TANF is TEMPORARY!!!!! So should housing, city benefits, food stamps and free medical. The state is in the red and needs to find ways to cut spending....why is the state responsible to support families forever who don't have the desire to work??? If you can make a baby then you need to go to work and support these children not sit back and take advantage of the programs. Yes, there are people who use the program for what it is for...to get to a better spot where they can support their families...or try too. Making an effort to better yourself then yes getting some benefits is understandable but to keep having kids and not taking care of them is unacceptable. Since making the 5 yr TANF rule many families have been moving out of state..in hopes I am sure to find a state that will continue to give them cash. Let them move and those states like Maine will have to get strict and enforce the 5 yr rule. Many single parents are out there who make to much money for help but live worse off then these people on welfare because they have to provide their own medical insurance..their own food..pay for kids school lunches...its time for the lazy people who have no desire to better themselves to get off their butts and see what the real world has to deal with. Many families would be happy with just medical help..or $50 in food stamps but can't get that...these families milking the system aren't even grateful for what they get...what the tax payers are paying for them to get for free. Yes the Mayor could watch how he speaks and how blunt he is but he is correct this state has easy welfare and to many people take advantage of it.To many people move to Maine ...to Lewiston to get welfare benefits. The state, city and housing ALL need to prosecute these people who commit fraud and need to stop making it easy for people to sit back and be lazy!!!

RONALD RIML's picture

Lewiston produced......

Lewiston produced Paul LePage.

Need we say more????

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Some would consider your slam

Some would consider your slam on Lewiston to be unfair and a momentary lapse in sound judgement on your part. Need I say more?

Diana Currier's picture


Hopefully now I have this part of it out in the open we can find out just what happens to the moneys being paid back too. I am SURE I am NOT the only one who had to pay back....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Are you saying that ALL

Are you saying that ALL benefits that a recipient gets must be paid back?

Diana Currier's picture


all the ones I got had to...

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You're telling us that if a

You're telling us that if a person is on GA for 5 years, all 5 years worth of benefits has to be paid back, and that applies to everyone; no exceptions. How on earth does that work?

Diana Currier's picture



 's picture

Ignorance, stupidity, and hatred make bad policy

These urban legends that the Mayor is spreading have no basis in fact. They are the product of a delusional mind unsubstantiated by experience. DHHS has studied this and found that most out-of-state applicants for welfare programs are returning Mainers who left to find work and not succeeding returned home. Does that sound lazy, no.
The fundamental problem is the growing gap between the rich and poor. Today a family with two full time wage earners can not support a family of four. The middle class is evaporating because taxes have been radically cut for the wealthy (tax revenue is down by 3/4 because of cuts in capital gains, estate, and income tax rates) while spending has been shifted from the Federal and State Governments to local governments i.e. the poor and middle classes.
Some middle class people have, not understanding the issues, turned like rabid dogs on their neighbors. Shame on them.We need a fair system of taxation and spending. Not rants and hatred.

Caveman Mentality

There will always be people who abuse the system, and those people need to be dealt with, but that isn't everyone.

I have way too many plans and ideas about what needs to change in SNAP, TANF, GA, UI, WIC, et al to discuss it here, but these "chopping block/get the F out of my town" ideas are bullshit. That's just going to make things worse.

Honestly, the change to GA he proposed is not something I'm against, but I won't decide until it is in writing and I can see exactly how it would work. It's the attitude that makes me wonder "What's he going to do next?"

No benefits means more desperate people. Desperate people who can see no way out will end up on the streets, in shelters, in jail, or dead (all of which would still cost the taxpayer money). A few might find somewhere else to go. Some might even find a job. If they do move out.. then where do they go? It may not matter to some of you because they won't be in "your town" any more. Well, news flash, they will still be in someone's town, and they are still human beings. They don't just vanish.

We have a problem, something must be done, but economically forcing emigration is just pushing the problem on someone else. Are we not the UNITED states of America? At my house we try to fix things, not dump our broken stuff in someone else's yard. That's what an asshole would do."

 's picture

Moving on

Maybe I'll move from Auburn to Lewiston, collect my disability, and vote this jerk to the curb.

Diana Currier's picture


I thought there IS a limit on welfare, 5 years. Also in the end welfare is a LOAN because the mothers WILL pay that back with their child support ! And in doing so where is all that money that they do pay back go?? What is the fuss, trust me I know first hand it gets paid back this way I had to do it ....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I can see where child support

I can see where child support would be deducted from the amount a person is eligible to collect. Is that what you are referring to as paying back?


Reality check

From time immemorial people have left their homes in war torn countries, in poor rural areas, in poor southern cities and in economically depressed industrial cities to move to other cities to get a better life. Most of the time they were not successful in their past locations and they came to their new homes with many children, deficits in education and poor job skills, with mental and physical health issues, with criminal records and addictions, and with few skills to adapt to city life. In the past, some have managed to find that better life through education and training and hard work. Mostly, that door is closed today. There are few jobs for the unskilled and those jobs that exist do not pay a living wage. So the cities pay welfare. Fairness should demand that the State and Federal governments help out the cities since it is not a local problem but a state and federal problem. However, lately cuts in state and federal programs mean the cities catch the brunt of the bill. It is very unfair but if the cities stop paying these people it is foolish to assume they will disappear or suddenly find the key to success that has eluded them in the past. Instead past history tells us they will be living in cardboard boxes, panhandling, stealing, squatting spreading crime and disease. The shelters will be overrun and we will be putting them in jail and who pays for that and what happens to their children?

Gail Labelle's picture

A meeting between parents and local school officials got ugly We

What is wrong in changing the regulations to limit people who move from one state to the other from collecting City Welfare. Many states have put in limitations in their laws for a residency requirement before you can collect local welfare assisstance. As for State benefits since most funding comes from the Federal Government I am not sure if this can be done or not. I think maybe Mayor Bob should of address the situation in a different way than he did.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Certainly at a different time

Certainly at a different time and place.

 's picture

Open your eyes

From what I read people are saying the Mayor is trying to get rid of children. My take on it is the Mayor is trying to get rid of lazy people and if they move they will take their children. That is not the same as trying to get rid of children that is common sense. You get rid of the leaches and Lewiston would be better off, as well as the State. We are nothing but a wellfare state and people in every other state knows it.

Melissa  Tame's picture

Racist Mayor Macdonald

It's unbelievable that people would support this guy. His view is literally black and white. He doesn't care that people, all people need community and family- that is why Lewiston has become a meca. All the b.s. he's spouting is hate.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Knowing the difference

Knowing the difference between black and white makes Mayor Macdonald a racist? How does that work? Did he not make it clear that his concerns were not aimed at the African immigrants?

Marcus Talarico's picture

Wasn't Bob MacDonald born in

Wasn't Bob MacDonald born in Boston? Maybe he should go back to Boston.

 's picture

Wasn't Bob MacDonald born in

Doesn't look like Bob MacDonald is collecting welfare..he moved to Maine and has become a tax payer not a mooch.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Maybe, but he didn't come

Maybe, but he didn't come here to collect welfare, did he?

 's picture

I will bet you cash money

I will bet you cash money that he or someone in his family used government assistance at some point in his life though. He needs to remember and honor that help and pay it forward, and not trash people who need it indiscriminately.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I've no interest in your cash

I've no interest in your cash money, but I will settle for some proof of your allegation, though.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This could back fire.....

Any time an elected official, in any capacity, decides or implies that the answer to any problem, is getting rid of the children. Or indirectly imply's that by getting rid if the parents then the school population will return to normal. That politician has just opened the worlds largest can of worms. I'm heading out now for a new key board, I have a feeling I'll be wearing one out with this one. You can say what you want about "out of staters", or even the parents, but leave the kids alone. I feel somethings about to hit the fan.......

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

So, if the welfare runs out

So, if the welfare runs out and the parents leave Lewiston and go back to say, Brockton, they should leave the kids behind so they may benefit from the generosity of the Lewiston School Dept.? Am I reading it right?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Some would say Mayor

Some would say Mayor Macdonald is merely expressing the views of Benjamin Franklin in making the "poor" be uncomfortable in their "poverty".

 's picture

Barely having enough money

Barely having enough money for food in a month isn't comfortable. Having to choose between medicine and utility payments isn't comfortable. Worrying that filling out a form wrong will lead to a disruption in your needed aid isn't comfortable. Thinking that your government is out to get you because the yahoo mayor is a xenophobe isn't comfortable. Only some of those are necessary discomfort, and the last one is most definitely not needed.

 's picture

paying really high taxes to

paying really high taxes to support the permanent dependent class is what is not comfortable. watching them use cell phones that I can't afford is what is not comfortable. seeing them buy food that I can't afford is what is not comfortable. seeing them exiting the grocery store liquor is what is not comfortable. knowing they voted for someone that is going to raise taxes higher is what is not comfortable. after 25 years of volunteering for the poor, donating thousands of dollars and doing what I can to make them comfortable I say screw them. I will help my family and neighbors directly and the rest can go to hell.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Amen, Brother.

Amen, Brother.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Free food, assistance in

Free food, assistance in housing, free fuel, free cell phones, EBT debit cards, free medical care. Doesn't seem all that uncomfortable to me. Most of the worryies you mention in your post could apply to the average stiff who works for a living.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

For the sake of clarity, the

For the sake of clarity, the above post was intended for Mr. Blake.

 's picture

admit it to yourself first,

admit it to yourself first, this is a multi-generational problem, it didn't start when George Bush was president or republicans controlled congress, it is a lifestyle taught to the children. If you have a tapeworm will you save the young tapeworm? There are two ways to reduce and end it; one is to end it quickly and brutally and the other is to spend until there is no more money. then it will end quickly and brutally with riots, lawlessness, anarchy and that will be followed by tyranny.That is an undenyable fact coming soon to your neighborhood. Society has either producers or parasites and having worked in Pine St, Ash St, Walnut St area for 22 years I know what is down there. A bunch of lazy shiftless scum. thank you for not producing and good luck because you will need it.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Is there any doubt that some

Is there any doubt that some of the families currently on public assistance in Lewiston have 3 generations of individuals receiving benefits at taxpayer expense? Being a grandparent at 38 isn't uncommon these days. Sounds like a lifestyle to me.

 's picture

I can speak of it first hand.

I can speak of it first hand. when I started working in the hood in 1988 I dealt with people on welfare and when I left in 2011 I was dealing with the grandchildren of those people. the ancedotal stories are about the ones that actually get out of there. those are few and far between.

 's picture

Or it sounds like the fact

Or it sounds like the fact that this state has transitioned from an industrial to service economy over the last 3 generations, and the towns that relied most on industry are still recovering, like *gasp* Lewiston.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

So, you think 3 generations

So, you think 3 generations of the same family on welfare is normal and acceptable?
Before you draw all sorts of inaccurate conclusions from my comments, I have nothing, read my lips, nothing against welfare. What I am against is that some families have and continue make a lifestyle of it. That has to stop, or we'll all be broke. Those riding the wagon can never be allowed to outnumber those pulling it.

MEGAN PARKS's picture

A family in Lewiston on

A family in Lewiston on welfare three generations deep is not going to up and leave suddenly because a new law is enacted. They are the experts. They will find a way around the law like they have done with all previous laws.

By contrast, properly educating their children and exposing the children to a different way of living (a way of living they may not have ever been exposed to) IS a solution to ending the generational welfare recipients. Children learn what they live. Intervention is needed.

Change is definitely needed, but not in the form suggested by the mayor.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Properly educating an 8 year

Properly educating an 8 year old who happens to be a member of the third generation of a family on welfare is going to get the family to pull itself out of welfare based on what the child has learned in school. Nice. You said it yourself, "Children learn what they live."
Irrespective of what the child learns in school, what they live and learn at home will define who and what the child becomes.

 's picture


I'm sick and tired of all these Brocktonites coming to Lewiston, speaking with their Boston accents! Learn to speak with a Maine accent or get out!!! ......Where does he get this stuff???

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Marciano must be turning in

Marciano must be turning in his grave.

 's picture

Rocky and Al Davis

Rocky and Al Davis are probably discussing the matter right now.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Never knew Davis was a Mass.

Never knew Davis was a Mass. guy. Given his flamboyant personality, though, I can believe it.

 's picture


I was present at this meeting and the mayor's "performance" was a total embarrassment to the people of Lewiston. As our "esteemed" mayor he was given the floor to have the final word at the Geiger redistricting meeting. He used this platform to rant about the current welfare system, as he calls it, and propose his "simple" solution to our current school crowding issues and redistricting proposal... While one could propose that the two subjects may be interrelated, the meeting at Geiger school was certainly not the forum to solve the problems of our assitance problems in the city of Lewiston nor the state of Maine. The redistricting meeting led by Superintendent Webster lasted 2 and a 1/2 hours and was well attended by concerned parents, teachers, school board members, and community members. There was great dialouge had and varying points made throughout the evening...with most in oppostion to the current redistricting plan proposed by Mr. Webster and his committee. However, through all of the debate, which at times was very heated and controversial...people conduted themseves in a courteous and professional manner. It is too bad that our "esteemed" mayor could not conduct himself in the same manner. By the end if his 5 minue closing rant, he was hollering into the microphone and rudely gesturing to a parent in the audience that challenged his "solution" to the problem at hand... His performance, once again, was an embarrasment to the citizens of Lewiston...

David Perry's picture


What makes the mayor think that Lewiston is such a paradise that people from away are flocking to it? Lewiston has a long way to go before it becomes a magnet for newcomers, poor or otherwise.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

4500 Somalians thought it was

4500 Somalians thought it was a pretty good place to flock to.

RONALD RIML's picture

Must have been a lot of empty housing....

Do you think others flocked away?????

Marcus Talarico's picture

What an embarrassment to this

What an embarrassment to this city, but since when is this news?

 's picture

The Food Stamp program

The Food Stamp program administered by the U.S. Department of Agruculture,is proudly and aggressively distrubiting the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever. Meanwhile the National Park Service, adminstered by the U.S. Department of Interior, asks us to "Please do not feed the animals". Their stated reason is the animals will grow dependent on the handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves. This ends todays lesson.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Why do you suppose so few

Why do you suppose so few make that connection, John. Your analogy is spot on.

MEGAN PARKS's picture

If the goal of redistricting

If the goal of redistricting is to provide increased diversity, how will that happen if we are to anticipate 1000 of our most diverse students to leave when their welfare is cut off?

Is there no concern for those 1000 children? Are they to be disregarded completely because their parents get welfare?

The mayor's comments were unfair, out of line, and flat out rude and ignorant!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Aren't those 1000 children

Aren't those 1000 children the responsibility of their parents?

 's picture

State law

Maine law noted that children of age 7 or older are required to be enrolled in an approved school (public or private). Minimum age is also listed in the statue. So techincally, the responsibility also falls unto the community to educate them. So it appears you're partly responsible Mr. Pirate :P


PAUL ST JEAN's picture

That may be so, but if the

That may be so, but if the parents have left the community because their welfare has dried up, isn't it a reasonable premise to assume the children will follow the parents to their new community where they will thereby become the educational responsibility of THAT community, thus making them no longer the responsibility of the Lewiston, Maine School System. Get it?
By the way, that's "statute", Mr. McCarron. 0O:-)

MEGAN PARKS's picture

If the superintendent/school

If the superintendent/school committee is going to take on the responsibility of decided what is best for the education of the children of Lewiston then they need to take on that responsibility for all children. They can't pick and choose which are worth it and disregard the rest because of their parents use of the welfare system.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You appear to have placed

You appear to have placed these 1000 children out of context. They are mentioned only once in the article: Mayor Macdonald is quoted as saying, "but if this welfare law is put into place there would be, at the end of the year, over 1000 kids off the rolls in Lewiston because their parents would have gone elsewhere because they would no longer get support from General Assistance".
How can anyone derive anything from this other than that the children will leave Lewiston with their parents when the parents leave Lewiston to go "elsewhere". How then, does that make these 1000 children the responsibility of Supt. Webster and the Lewiston School Dept.? How does that make the Lewiston School System guilty of picking and choosing the worthy ones over the ones whose parents are no longer on welfare"? If the parents leave, the kids are going with them. None of them will be here; it's that simple.

MEGAN PARKS's picture

Unfortunately a lot is being

Unfortunately a lot is being taken out of context. I happen to be one of the "lucky" ones that witnessed the mayor's rant. It was very clear, being present, what he was saying. My statements are a direct response to what he said, in its entirety, Wednesday night. You can interpret whatever you choose from the small snippets in this article, but I got the whole story.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

1000 kids leave town with

1000 kids leave town with their parents; 1000 vacancies in the Lewiston School system. Math 101.

MEGAN PARKS's picture

Wow, you're right. How could

Wow, you're right. How could I be so stupid. It really is that simple, isn't it? So then we do not need to continue with this proposal that the Superintendent and the school committee has been working on. The solution is to just cut off these families, regardless of their situations, and let those 1000 children become victims of society. Let them learn in the same way their parents learned and continue to be a burden. Just as long as they are not our burden, who cares, right?

Passing laws does not stop welfare abuse! Can you not see this? Those who want to abuse the system will do so no matter how many laws you put into place. Providing children with proper, quality education is a better approach to solving the problem. Otherwise, if we dismiss them (the children) in the same way their parents were dismissed the only thing they learn is what they live. That is how generational welfare abuse is created, not solved.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You and I are not going to

You and I are not going to agree on this, and I'm o.k. with that.

 's picture


Congradulations to mayor MacDonald for having the courage to tell it like it is.
This has been going on long enough, not only in Lewiston, but staewide.

 's picture

There is a time and place, and this was neither.

I'm all for finding ways to get folks back on their feet and off GA. This was neither the time or place for the discussion.

There were well over 80 people there to discuss and share/vent concerns with the school redistricting proposal.

It was an utter disgrace to watch a grown man, our elected mayor, become unglued in front of a room full of people.

 's picture

If it was the wrong place to

If it was the wrong place to discuss this then why is it that the school proposal is due to having to many welfare families in some schools and spreading them out over all of the schools? If/when these welfare families go elsewhere for their welfare then Lewiston won't have to move the poor families around so one school doesn't take the brunt. Sounds like it needed to be discussed right where he brought it up.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

One could agree that the time

One could agree that the time and place were not favorable to his topic, but the topic is nonetheless valid and needs to be addressed, wouldn't you say?

 's picture

Not really

You're kidding? The meeting/discussion was to review a plan where kids will attend school in 2013.

The man acted a similar to a seagull. He flew into a tirade, crapped on a bunch of people, and flew off.

Mr. Mayor needs a timeout, or a seat in the guidance councilor's office to discuss his feelings. :P

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

What do you think I said in

What do you think I said in my post?


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