August 31, 2013

LePage pledges to help Sudanese refugees

The governor also criticizes legislators for not doing more to help Mainers who are working toward a better life.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Gov. Paul LePage speaks to members of the Sudanese community at Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland on Friday.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Gov. Paul LePage takes a question from Alfred Jacob as he visits members of the Sudanese community at Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland on Friday.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

"We have doctors, lawyers and engineers -- unfortunately, they're cleaning houses and housekeeping in hotels," Rwaganje said.

Small-business owners asked for help in securing capital to start and expand businesses. LePage stopped at the African markets on Forest Avenue and Congress Street before the town hall meeting.

"We can solve the employment issue. We can solve the language barrier. Those are easy," LePage said. "We just need to do it."

The Sudanese residents also asked the governor to help fund a new community center so children can have a place to spend their time, other than the streets. Single mothers said the center should provide day care so women can pursue an education, work or start their own businesses.

LePage said he would try to find funding for a center.

"We will work on that with the city of Portland and the Maine State Housing Authority," he said, later adding, "All the money I spend comes from the Legislature. I can't promise something I don't have in my pocket."

Housing was also raised as an issue.

LePage toured three apartments on Kennedy Street and one on Spring Brook Way before the meeting, a spokesman said. He told the audience that he would convene a meeting with the Maine State Housing Authority to discuss the "deplorable" living conditions in at least one of the subsidized units. "We saw deferred maintenance that is just unacceptable," he said.

Margaret Laam, a single mother, said she struggles to take care of her 7-year-old while going to school and working seven days a week.

As her income increased, so did her rent. Now that she earns $30,000 a year, Laam said, she is no longer eligible for food stamps or MaineCare. "All of my money is going out the window."

LePage said it is "insane" for rent in subsidized housing units to increase as income goes up. He also said he has been working for three years to reform food assistance and subsidized housing programs to help people who are trying to get ahead.

Mark Adelson, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority, which manages the Kennedy Park and Riverton units, said it was "unfortunate" that the governor didn't let the authority know about the visit and arrange a meeting to talk about the housing issues.

Adelson said Kennedy Park was inspected in July by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "We got a very high score so I'm not quite sure what the governor was referring to," he said.

Federal law requires residents to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent to qualify for subsidized housing or rental assistance, he said. A tenant's share of the cost goes up as his or her income goes up.

"I think (LePage) needs a clearer understanding about how it works," Adelson said. "If he had called and gave us some notice that he was coming, we would have been happy to review with him all of our programs."

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:


Twitter: @randybillings

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