LEWISTON — Mayor Robert Macdonald on Tuesday announced a city effort to cut down on welfare fraud and waste that includes kicking 84 people off the city's General Assistance lists, 50 of whom are accused of fraud.
It's part of a larger campaign aimed at cutting down on welfare cheats in the city.
"We're not going to be known as a welfare town anymore," Macdonald said. "If you want to come here, don't come here for welfare, because if we catch you, you will be prosecuted."
Police Chief Michael Bussiere said police were pursuing fraud charges against 12 people cut from the city's welfare rolls. He declined to name them, but said they could face up to six months in jail, as well as fines, if convicted.
"Our job is to investigate the complaint," Bussiere said. "The city, just like anyone else that suspects they are a victim of fraud, gets to make a complaint. Our job is to develop probable cause and determine if a crime has been committed."
Four city residents were issued summonses on Monday. All 12 were expected to be charged this week, Bussiere said. And the investigation will not stop with them, he said.
Macdonald promised there would be more charges filed later in the year.
"Before the summer, it is going be a much larger number," Macdonald said. "And the ones we are going after next are a lot more serious."
Sue Charron, the city's social services director, said 225 people get General Assistance. Single recipients can be eligible for up to $471 per month to help pay for basic necessities: housing, utilities, medicine and food.
Charron said 34 of the people cut had neglected administrative requirements. They had not completed their required job training programs, had quit a job or were fired. They were not accused of fraud, she said.
Of the 50 accused of fraud, Charron said most had lied about applying for work. General Assistance recipients must fill out a form detailing where they applied for jobs.
"They need to actually leave applications, so when we call, they can confirm it," Charron said. "What they were doing was just writing names down and they were not actually applying for work."
Charron said the city does occasionally check those forms.
"We try to do it as best we can, but we had not done it for some time because we have been so busy," Charron said. "But we took a bunch and decided to check."
People can be kicked off General Assistance rolls for up to 120 days if the department finds fraud.
"On the 121st day, they can come back, and they don't have to make restitution or anything," Charron said. "But they can be charged. What we are going to do now in Lewiston is, if you commit fraud, you will be charged. It's not going to be as easy as just coming back."
Macdonald said he also wants the city to adopt rules for fining landlords when their tenants misbehave.
"If police are called to a certain residency a certain number of times in one month, the landlord is fined $50," Macdonald said.
Macdonald said he's not targeting the poor; he's targeting the dishonest.
"We have the working poor down there," Macdonald said. "Those are the people who work in the coffee shops. Those are the people who get up every morning and go to jobs. However, a lot of them are kept up all night long by some of the people we are charging. These people sleep all day and party all night."