Immigrant advocates dispute anecdotes driving LePage's safety-net proposal

AUGUSTA — Earlier this week House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, asked members of his caucus if they had heard of abuses in the welfare system.

According to Nutting, lawmakers kept "bouncing up" to tell their stories. He said he'd received similar responses during constituent meetings.

The prevalence of anecdotes is one reason Nutting and members of his caucus are backing Gov. Paul LePage's proposed welfare-reform package. Another familiar narrative is accompanying the governor's plan to put a five-year hold on social-service benefits for legal immigrants.

The administration says the proposal would save $10 million a year. The proposal does not impact refugees or asylees, who receive some federal assistance.

Immigrant advocates say the savings would be short-lived because the need will shift elsewhere — municipal General Assistance programs, emergency rooms, shelters and food banks. The other problem, advocates say, is the political justification for the five-year wait, that Maine's rich benefits attract legal aliens and stress the system.

That argument was repeated by Nutting and Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, during a recent meeting with the Sun Journal editorial board. Nutting on Thursday described Maine as an "outlier" state because it offers benefits to legal immigrants immediately. Most other states, he said, conform with the federal standard, a law adopted in 1996.

The result, Nutting said, is that Maine is a "sponge" for legal immigrants. He said that means other social services, like heating oil assistance, can be underfunded. Additionally, Nutting said, there is no federal match for Maine's benefits for legal aliens.

"Do we want to continue to be an outlier that draws and attracts people?" he said. "We currently don’t have the funds to support Maine residents to the extent that we would like to."

But Robyn Merrill, with Maine Equal Justice Partners, said the argument relies too heavily on anecdotes.

"We haven’t seen the data to back it up," Merrill said. "In fact, we’ve seen data that counters it."

Merrill referred to studies published by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that showed for every one person coming to the state to receive social services, two more leave. 

In 2006, DHHS reported that less than 1 percent of all recipients came from another state. And, about one-third were returning home, not migrating here.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Immigration Law Center, Maine is one of 23 states that provide cash assistance to legal immigrants during the five-year waiting period for federal assistance in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The state adopted its program more than a decade ago with broad bipartisan support.

Two other New England states, Vermont and Connecticut, have similar fill-in programs.

Neighboring New Hampshire and Massachusetts provide some support through General Assistance. If LePage's proposal goes through, Maine's immigrant safety net could take a similar shape.

The governor's budget includes a 15 percent reduction in the state's municipal reimbursement for General Assistance.

Maine's program has led many to claim that legal immigrants flock here to take advantage of state-funded coverage for pregnant women and immigrant children.

According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Maine saw a 7 percent decrease in children of immigrants between 1990 and 2006. Nationally, the increase is 90 percent.

Despite fewer immigrant benefits, New Hampshire and Massachusetts saw increases over the same period of 56 and 52 percent, respectively.

Most of Maine's safety-net services for immigrants are for families with children.

Beth Stickney, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland, said the data mirrors what she's seeing on the ground. Stickney said her clients come to Maine because a family member moved here, or because there's work at places like Barber Foods in Portland, Quality Egg in Turner or Smith's Farm in Aroostook County.

Stickney said the five-year wait for social services would hurt her clients when they most need help.

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, the ranking Democrat on the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, agreed.

"The time to help people is when they need it, not when they don’t need it," Craven said.

Stickney worried that immigrants would be forced to take second or third low-paying jobs. That could mean less time to learn English and a slow, if not stagnant, climb up the economic ladder.

Nutting said the Legislature didn't intend to cut people off. He was confident that the committees reviewing the governor's proposal would find a solution to protect immigrants currently receiving benefits.

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Not only Maine, but the rest

Not only Maine, but the rest of the country is experiencing financial difficulties. Unless they are seeking asylum here for their personal safety from persecution immigrants should come prepared to support themselves. Other countries expect that of immigrants and I feel we should also. When one moves to a new country one should be expected to support themselves and learn the way of their chosen country. I am all for helping them make the transition by offerring language classes etc., but to expect welfare from the start is a little too much. I do not see how anyone can find fault with the Federal stipulation that immigrants should not expect financial help for the first five years of their living in the country. Welfare, as a whole, is too widespread in this country. We must take care of our old and those who cannot physically or mentally care for themselves, but the program needs reform.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

anecdotes without facts

What that means is its all made up. No truth to it. Its a fantasy or a mirage driven more by nativism or racism than experience.
Well I have an anedote too. LePage has announced a new program to increase the deer herd. Since he wants to remove 3 million acres from LURC's control so that unregulated development - you know strip malls, hotels, lodges, resorts - can make Maine's woodlands more valuable for the current owners, deer can't get rooms in those new hotels. So he's going to increase the herd by turning the Grey Animal farm into a deer breeding farm and then just release the deer into Grey. Second he's going to reduce predators. He'll outsource the job to Mexican hunters for a dollar a kill. First they will be able to get rid of the coyotes by hunting them from the air preferably with Mexican army helicopters and gattling guns. Then they will turn their new expertice on Maine's primary deer predator - democrats. LePage can see all kinds of advantages to that.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Did you read my comment

Apparently you didn't read my comment. I said at the very beginning that it was a fantasy, a mirage. That I stepping out of character to be consistent with the other comments in the article.

Jim Cyr's picture


Ms.Kaileigh,Leave it up to the "Progressives" to bring up the "Race" card! Just like in Mr.Raymonds' letter. Race was not mentioned and neither in Mr.Mistler's comments. It's not a "Race" issue,it's an economic issue.Mr.Raymond was correct in the system was being over whelmed.

RONALD RIML's picture

Some folks weren't born yesterday, Jim.

Merely because something's "not mentioned" as you state, certainly doesn't prove its non-existance.

Ever wonder why perhaps sixty million Americans think President Obama may be a Foreign born Muslim? It's because they can't call him a (N-Word Racial Slur) on national TV.

RONALD RIML's picture

Address the content of what I said

Rather than cowardly make fictitious allegations, Robert.

RONALD RIML's picture

An allegation framed as a question....

You're so easy to pin down in your lies, Robert....

RONALD RIML's picture

Let's hear your take on it.......

"The number of Americans who believe -- wrongly -- that President Obama is a Muslim has increased significantly since his inauguration and now accounts for nearly 20 percent of the nation's population." --->

20% of 300 Million is 60 Million. Are they that freakin' stupid, or does race come into it? You know your ex-constituents.

Jeff Douglas's picture


if there arent any people taking advantage of this program then why fight so hard to keep it? i mean if we dont have that population then why do we need this program at all? im pretty sure lewistons school department would disagree that there are more immigrants leaving then comming. they have over 600 non-english speaking students in middle schoool alone.
also i work in the state prison system we have a large population of immigrants here. because of thier crime they should under federal law be deported. but because thier country has no formal goverment they cannot be deported so they are released back onto our streets and back into our welfare programs.

Kaileigh Tara's picture


Just the other day I was approached by someone with an "anecdote" that they have been spreading as truth.
No, "those people" and I really hate that term, which says so much about the person using it, do not take jobs from white people.
In this economy, applicants who are most motivated, qualified and make the best impression with potential employer will get the job.Period. If anything, a person's color or religion will disqualify them. I would certainly not be surprised about that happening here in the L/A area. So quit whining and spreading that lie around.
Also no, we never gave newly arriving Somali community members new cars, or any "benefits" ahead of any other qualified recipients. Every person who applies for needed services is evaluated by guidelines that do not see color or religion or status.
I still hear that anecdote going around today- ten years later!!
This bill and the anecdotes it is based on is really wrapped up in racism, fear and ignorance, there are not facts to back it up, the only facts presented are those that dispute the anecdotes.
We had facts when new community members started arriving here in 2000, but the fear mongers and KKK only focused on the "ideas and imagery" ( anecdotes) that whip up concern and doubt and cast blame and create fear and someone to blame.
Did you know that we have people living here from Egypt, Poland, Ireland, Mexico, Vietnam, Russia, Armenia, Kosovo, Scotland, Korea, China, Canada, France, England, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Japan, Spain, and that is just off the top of my head, there are many more....Italy, Greece, ...
Yet we are only targeting the black, Muslim people - who can pass the straight face test and tell me that is not racism????
Yeah, just like mayor Larry Raymond's letter was not racist? The one that was talked about in international news, that Italy called racist and many other countries, that we were laughed at and considered so uncivilized, yeah that one....
When will we learn?
When do we evolve into higher, better human beings?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"When do we evolve into

"When do we evolve into higher, better human beings?"
Maybe when we begin taking care of Americans first instead welfare seekers from other countries?

Doreen Sheive's picture

Control our costs

I don't agree with LePage most of the time, however, we do need to get our welfare costs under control. We should not provide better benefits than what federal laws require. I think every single one of us knows at least one person who is taking advantage of the system. There are people who have been on welfare for years because of their lack of the desire to work or addictions. It is not right. It needs to end.

RONALD RIML's picture

How did you do with the case you reported. Doreen???

Report Welfare Fraud Toll Free: 1-800-442-6003

Fraud, Investigation and Recovery
11 State House Station
Whitten Road
Augusta, Maine 04333-0011

Terry Donald's picture

No surprise

The consertaive portion of the legislature, just like it's"big daddy" LePage administration ran it's campiagns and continues to run the business of the state of anecdotes, myth and outright lies. They motivated voters by frightening those among us into believing that people from other states were the cause of our financial woes, not the struggling US economy, that the tax picture, job prospects, energy costs and personal freedoms were so much better in other states than here. It appears the way they are lining up proposal after proposal, they are still ignoring the facts.

GARY SAVARD's picture

If we lose two welfare cases

If we lose two welfare cases for every new one that comes in, then why is DHHS still the money sucking behemoth that it is? Maine as a whole may have seen a 7% decrease in children of immigrants, but Lewiston specifically has a growing student population that bucks the trend of most of Maine's other school districts. That's odd because it doesn't fit the data as reported by this article. If these reforms are not needed because Maine really doesn't have the problem of attracting people looking for welfare as a lifestyle, then they shouldn't bother folks like Beth Stickney, who make their living stuffing people into the various taxpayer funded entitlement programs. "Anecdotes"?

 's picture

Get it right, Mr. Savard, we

Get it right, Mr. Savard, we lose two cases moving out as we get moving in. That says nothing about the people who stay here and are in need. That is primarily who our safety net is for, but those on the negative side of the political persuasion keep bringing up an alleged influx of people seeking benefits as an excuse to eliminate it for everyone, including Maine people. That's a smoke screen that's been used way to often.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Dan, if we lose two welfare

Dan, if we lose two welfare cases moving out for every one that comes in, yet we constantly expand the welfare rolls, then we have a major problem, because soon there won't be enough working people left in Maine to support the ever increasing number of Mainers on welfare. Either way, it's not sustainable.

 's picture

Mr. Savard, stop confusing

Mr. Savard, stop confusing migration with home bred need. If you would look at recent budgets, you'd find the 'welfare' budget has actually decreased over the last couple of years. And remember, most of the 'welfare' recipients are the elderly and handicapped, so unless your solution is to execute them, there isn't much to do. Already lepage is penalizing people who are old and handicap. I went over to Barker Arms a couple of days ago, and lepage has sent letters to most resident cutting their food stamp coupons by 20% next month. These people aren't playing the system, they're trying to survive, on less and less each year. These people haven't had any increase in the Social Security for two years, and now, despite food prices skyrocketing, lepage is cutting their food stamps. For what?? To pay for tax cuts for the rich. Really sounds fair, doesn't it?

GARY SAVARD's picture

Dan, I thought food stamps

Dan, I thought food stamps were part of a federal program and that setting or altering guidelines for qualification and quantity had nothing to do with the states. LIHEAP and other programs, incuding medicare and social security are also federally controlled. I don't see how Lepage can be blamed for cuts to those programs because he can't do it.

 's picture

Mr. Savard, it may be a

Mr. Savard, it may be a federal program, but it is administrated by the state and is part of the state 'welfare' program. Since you want lepage to slash the 'welfare' program, you must hold him accountable for it. He is now slashing food out of the mouths of the elderly and handicap, to fully fund his tax cuts for the wealthy. Sorry, but you cannot claim that he's only responsible for the things that you agree with, or do you agree we should deprive the elderly and handicap to enrich the wealthy? It is becoming apparent that you merely want to slash welfare at whatever cost and harm it will do to the least fortunate of our state. So you're looking for any excuse, so you don't appear mean spirited. Fine, whatever you want to do so you can live your selfishness. There are plenty of people in this forum to keep you company.

RONALD RIML's picture

Since when do you deal in facts, Robert??

i.e. Your Teleprompter segue - and you may also link to my posts you are referring to as per your above posting: "Ron, explain to me why its you that continues to bring up "the N word"....

C'mon there, feller - you got it in you??

RONALD RIML's picture

So you don't have those posts, Robert

Merely your continuing rants..... Claiming that was the 'One time' Obama did not use a teleprompter? You know this how, Swammi??

As long as you're bringing up 'Military ID' there, Robert - did you ever apply for one??


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