LEWISTON — City councilors Tuesday evening discussed a proposed ordinance that clearly specifies who qualifies for General Assistance and adheres to recent state law changes.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said councilors are expected to vote at their Dec. 1 meeting on doing away with their broad definition of which refugees and new residents qualify for city GA payments.

Currently, refugees without legal standing can qualify for GA payments in Lewiston. The new rule would match state rules adopted last summer, limiting payments to those with legal standing or those actively seeking legal immigrant status.

“So our ordinance has a much broader eligibility standard, and we thought it’d be a good idea to bring our ordinance back in line with state law so that no one can come back down the road and take action against us for not following our own ordinance,” Barrett said.

Maine law requires cities and towns to pay General Assistance to needy residents out of their general funds and property taxes. Single recipients are eligible for up to $537 per month in aid from the city to help pay for basic necessities such as housing, utilities, medicine and food. Multi-person households can be eligible for more.

The state reimburses cities and towns for a portion of the assistance, generally half of the cost. After paying out a specific amount, the state reimbursement rate increases to 90 percent for a city.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services moved earlier this year to disallow the use of state funds for General Assistance distributed to undocumented immigrants and people who are here but have not been granted asylum status. Those people are here legally, but cannot work until they are granted that status. Many are fleeing violent, war-torn regions.

State Superior Court ruled in May that communities such as Lewiston may pay people without legal status, but the state does not have to reimburse cities for those payments.

In June, Lewiston city councilors decided to stop accepting new asylum-seekers in its General Assistance program as of July 1. Those currently getting help from the city were unaffected.

Legislators then updated state law so that anyone in the country legally and following the legal practice to become a citizen is eligible for General Assistance, but only for two years.

“Our ordinance could require us to provide assistance for folks, but we would not be reimbursed,” Barrett said.

Attorney Mike Malloy of the law firm Brann and Isaacson said the state law uses the phrase “legally present” to say who can qualify for aid.

In language drafted by Malloy for Lewiston, people seeking immigrant status, minors, parents of minor U.S. citizens and those living in the U.S. with the permission of the Department of Homeland Security qualify for aid.

All those fit under the state’s definition of “legally present,” he said.

Councilor Mike Lachance argued against adopting specific language, suggesting the city tie its ordinance to the state’s law.

“That way, we don’t have to keep up with state law, especially nowadays when that definition is more likely to change,” Lachance said. “Why don’t we just defer to the state and say that if an applicant meets state requirements, then we can provide services?”

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