On Tuesday, March 3rd, the the Maine legislative Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Health and Human Services heard testimony on Governor Paul LePage’s proposed cuts to public programs.
The cuts are part of the Governor’s welfare reform initiative. They would effect programs that help those in need pay for housing and heat, supplement income for the elderly or disabled, and provide food for the hungry.
Many groups have blasted the Governor for the proposed cuts. One local group, Southern Maine Workers’ Center called the Governor’s welfare reform rhetoric “racist and xenophobic” and fit only for a “race to the bottom” for all.
The cuts to General Assistance (GA) — a program that assists those on the verge of homelessness — targets cities with relatively large immigrant populations: Portland, Bangor and Lewiston. The state pays more than $13 million in reimbursements, and most of the reimbursements go to the cities.
The cuts also include the elimination of state reimbursement of GA for asylum seekers and other non-citizens. If successful, then Portland would not receive reimbursement for GA paid to these groups.
The Workers’ Center statement on the Governor’s plans states, “The majority of people impacted by the proposals are people residing in Maine legally, especially those seeking asylum from violence in their home countries.”
“Non-citizen” is a broad category that includes many legal residents that have not yet earned their citizenship. One such group are the asylum seekers, who have a lengthy and complicated process to be granted asylum and legal status as immigrants.
These residents are lawfully seeking asylum in the United States and awaiting permission to work – a process that can take months or even years. In the meantime, they have no source of income and rely on GA and other programs.
The asylum seekers are a relatively small group that tend to live in urban centers including Portland and Lewiston-Auburn.
Mouna Ismail, from United Somali Women of Maine, spoke at a press conference organized by several advocacy groups.
“Today I am able to support myself and my children. But when I arrived in Lewiston, I received General Assistance, which helped me and my children feel safe while recovering from the suffering of our past…
“I believe if these benefits are interrupted, many mothers and children will be left homeless and starving. I don’t event want to imagine what the future will be like for asylum seekers without access to those benefits.”