LEWISTON — Mayor Robert Macdonald met with a group of asylum-seeking immigrants for two hours Wednesday afternoon discussing ways to preserve city General Assistance payments.
Macdonald said he expects the City Council will vote on whether to change city policy and begin denying payments to undocumented immigrants at its next meeting. The council's next scheduled meeting is July 15.
"Unless something happens between now and then, we'll have to make a decision," Macdonald said.
Macdonald has said he supports Maine Gov. Paul LePage's efforts to deny General Assistance benefits for non-citizens who do not have proper paperwork.
The governor announced last month that the state would stop reimbursing Maine's cities and towns for aid paid to undocumented non-citizens and people seeking asylum. That could mean a cut to the city of up to $170,000, Macdonald said.
LePage later declared the state would suspend all General Assistance reimbursement to cities that continue to give aid to undocumented non-citizens. That could mean a $550,000 cut in state aid to Lewiston.
The Maine Municipal Association said Monday it would ask the Maine Superior Court to decide if LePage could make that kind of change.
"If there is a solution to it, it won't come up at the City Council," Macdonald said. "Whether there's an injunction filed or the MMA files their paperwork or the governor decides to cut us off if we don't comply, we'll abide by whatever that is. But we need to decide where we stand otherwise."
Macdonald said the group of asylum seekers requested the meeting with him.
Abdoulkader Abdillahi, an immigrant from Djibouti seeking asylum in Lewiston, said the meeting did not settle anything or change any opinions.
Macdonald said there is not much he can do at this point.
"I know they are aggravated with me, but I represent the whole City of Lewiston and that's a substantial amount of money that we're talking about," Macdonald said.
Macdonald said the city has reduced City Hall hours by one hour and eliminated four staff positions, including the recreation director, because of cuts in the new budget.
"So we have some problems here, in decreased services," Macdonald said. "And this is a pretty good chunk of change for us. We're not a wealthy community."
Macdonald said he's sympathetic with asylum seekers.
"The worst part for them is that they have skills that they could use here, but they can't get a job because they don't have work papers," Macdonald said.