LePage policy puts squeeze on cities, immigrants

PORTLAND — Gov. Paul LePage wants to limit state welfare benefits to only those residents living in Maine legally, a move that could force municipalities to drop some recipients or risk losing government funds.

Douglas Mpay
Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Douglas Mpay, speaks to a reporter at his home in Portland. Mpay is one of an estimated 1,000 who would lose his general assistance benefits under a new directive from Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Mpay, who's applying for aslyum, says the loss of aid will be devastating for him, his wife and two children. 

But opponents say the Republican would be pitting have-nots against other have-nots in the state and feeding into a fear of immigrants. Meanwhile, some politicians complain that LePage can't change welfare laws without legislative approval and that he's grandstanding during an election year.

"He's putting people who are having difficult economic times against one another and trying to make them feel like they need to battle it out," said Zach Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

LePage, who was homeless as a boy, says his new directive will preserve assistance for the neediest and bring the state into compliance with federal law.

"By following federal law and eliminating welfare abuse, we can provide a safety net for our most vulnerable," he said in his weekly radio address on Tuesday. "We will be able to use our resources more effectively and efficiently to better provide Mainers a path to economic independence."

The state says the move would save $1 million a year in welfare funds.

Local officials and municipal groups say they're in a precarious position. If they deny the benefits, they risk lawsuits from immigrants. And if they provide the benefits, they could lose millions of dollars in state funds for the general assistance program and have to turn others away.

Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, says the governor has no authority to implement the change in welfare regulations without legislative approval. She has advised cities to continue providing assistance.

Douglas Mpay, an immigrant from Angola who is seeking asylum in the U.S., said losing his municipal welfare benefits would force his wife and two children out of their apartment with few options for other places to turn.

"(The governor is) thinking about his political position, but he doesn't think about how that will affect people," he said Thursday from his Portland apartment.

But LePage, who has had family members who've relied on welfare and who has made overhauling the programs a priority since taking office, said in his radio address that "illegal aliens who choose to live in Maine are not our most vulnerable citizens."

He says cities and towns are free to use their own money to support immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Mpay, who is one of an estimated 1,000 immigrants who could lose his benefits, said he came to the U.S. seeking a better life after he moved from his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Angola, where he said he was beaten and oppressed.

The 36-year-old said he wishes he didn't have to rely on general assistance, but he has no way to provide an income for his family. His application for asylum is still pending and he has yet to receive a work permit, he said.

"I know that general assistance is something that helps us to get a start in the U.S. and I am willing to leave general assistance, if I could," he said.

In Massachusetts and other states, immigrants who can't show they are living there legally can't receive any cash assistance, said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

But she said immigration status is not clear-cut for many, so it would be challenging for local officials to determine whether someone is in the country legally or not.

City officials in Portland say they will continue to provide the benefits for now and are considering taking legal action themselves against the state.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett dismissed the idea that the governor, who is seeking re-election, is trying to score political points. She said he's merely following a 1996 federal law that says those who are in the country illegally can't receive local benefits.

But Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond, who represents Portland, said there seems to be little other reason why this new policy has come to light now with voters going to the polls in November.

"Every time he can stir up his base and talk about general assistance, use 'illegal aliens' — which is clearly used to benefit this tea party rhetoric of fear and hate — I think he's in good shape," he said.

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Squeezing the cities

This is what he does best. Then he can't figure out why we have the worst economic growth in New England. Instead of fixing it he doubles down. First of all he says we shouldn't count the $300 million we lost because he sent the federal funds to the other New England states. That's our tax money that we have sent to Washington thank you. Then he fools with revenue sharing. Then he cuts funds to education and comes up with all these alternative schools that have to be funded out of our municipal budgets. He cuts funding for the prisons. He cuts funding for head start. Sits on the bonds for road maintenance. Cuts funding for hospitals by refusing Medicaid expansion. Adds to their charity care costs by cutting Mainecare coverage. And now puts the cities in the position they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Does he really think that throwing these people AND THEIR CHILDREN in the street will make them go away? How naïve. We are the ones who will have their starving children show up in our schools and their illnesses spreading in our community and their homelessness and bodies dying on our streets. We have never had more incompetent leadership.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

It just brings a tear to my eye..........

I can't help but to get all caught up in this huge showing of compassion and sympathy for the many children who are here illegally and probably against their wishes. Do I think their parents broke the law? Yes, even in their attempts to flee a war torn nation. What kind of an excuse is that? Haven't they ever heard the old saying, "KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN", that works every day somewhere.
I can only assume that LePage might consider forming some sort of committee, he does for everything else. Only this committee will find a way to help those here illegally and protect his precious welfare system. There aren't to many problems that can't be solved. Some take more time and energy than others. We're talking about little children, dragged here only because their parents are here. Don't punish them. Unless of course it might cost to much, then the hell with the children................


he came to america

How did he come to America? did he follow the law and file to become a citizen? NO, did he find a way to America without the LEGAL MEANS YES, Are there groups of illegal aliens already in this country trying to bring other friends and family here by the same means they have since after all they can show them the ropes of the system YES! this is a 21 century virus and the best way to cure a virus is to stop its food source.


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