Portland officials spoke out against proposed state budget cuts Wednesday, saying the changes could push more people into the city’s emergency shelters, leave thousands unable to afford medicine and force a health clinic for the homeless to close its doors.

City officials said they are especially concerned about proposals to restrict access to MaineCare health insurance and to no longer provide aid through General Assistance, a program paid for by the state and communities, to people who qualify for federal cash assistance.

More than a quarter of Portland’s General Assistance recipients — or about 1,100 individuals and families a year — receive other aid but still can’t cover their basic expenses, according to Doug Gardner, director of the City of Portland’s Health & Human Services Department.

“Many GA recipients,” he said in prepared remarks, “still need some level of support for basic necessities such as housing, food and prescription drugs.

“Of those who are eligible for both federal programs and General Assistance, more than half access GA for three months or less, with 70 percent of the assistance provided for housing.”

Without General Assistance help, Gardner said, “these individuals and families will not be able to maintain housing stability and will find themselves evicted, facing foreclosure and often knocking at the doors of the city’s emergency shelters.”

Dr. Shuli Bonham, medical director of Portland’s Health Care for the Homeless Clinic, said the proposed General Assistance cut, along with new restrictions on Medicaid, or MaineCare, could leave her patients unable to fill prescriptions.

“Those medications are for diabetes. They are for bipolar disorder and severe depression. They are for thyroid disease, asthma and infections,” she said. “When my patients can’t get their medications, they get sick — their diabetes goes out of control and keeps them out of work. Their mental illness goes untreated, leading to a crisis requiring hospitalization — again, an avoidable and costly outcome.”

Bonham also said proposed cuts in MaineCare reimbursements for poor, childless adults would eliminate much of the funding that sustains the Health Care for the Homeless clinic, which sees 2,200 patients a year.

If forced to close its doors, many of those patients would lose access to primary care doctors and rely on hospital emergency rooms for charitable care.

“Please do not take away the tools we use to help Mainers rise out of poverty and illness — it will only hurt them and us,” Bonham said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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