LEWISTON — Changes to Maine's welfare rules could hurt the city, councilors told members of the state Legislature Tuesday night.
City councilors and city staff told Lewiston's representatives to the Maine Senate and House of Representatives that changes to Temporary Aid to Needy Families will cancel benefits to 337 Lewiston families as of May 1.
That's when those families reach a five-year limit on benefits that was adopted by the state last fall.
That could potentially send those families to Lewiston looking for General Assistance benefits. TANF benefits are supported by the federal government, while General Assistance is paid by the state and local governments.
"So if the state believes that certain people should be economically self sufficient and therefore should not receive state support, why in the world would you send them to their local City Hall and say 'They'll take care of you,'?" City Administrator Ed Barrett asked. "If you are sensing frustration, I think it's because we have not been able to get information and this has all been dropped on us very quickly."
Barrett said he has been unable to get firm estimates from the state Department of Health and Human Services, but said paying the additional General Assistance benefits could cost the city between $80,000 and $525,000.
Legislators are also considering a measure to reduce the amount of General Assistance compensation they pay to the cities. That measure could push new costs as high as $1.3 million to the city, Barrett said.
"Quite frankly, we just cannot absorb that," Mayor Robert Macdonald said. "What we'd like to know is, where is everyone going to stand? If we have to put these people on our welfare, we're going to get killed."
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said that she and her Lewiston colleagues understood. Rotundo was joined by Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, Rep. Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston,
"We share your frustration, but we are not in the majority," Rotundo said. "Last spring we did what we could to minimize that impact of all of these proposals."