The city of Portland said Monday it might join forces with the Maine Municipal Association in the MMA’s lawsuit challenging the legality of a LePage administration directive to deny General Assistance payments to undocumented immigrants.

“The city is in the process of pursuing a legal strategy with the Maine Municipal Association,” City Manager Mark Rees announced at the start of Monday’s City Council meeting. “In the meantime, we will continue to provide General Assistance to our residents.”

Rees made the statement after meeting in a lengthy executive session with city councilors. Rees was asked to elaborate on what he meant by “legal strategy” after the regular council meeting ended. The city manager declined to be more specific, saying only that city officials are “continuing to talk with the MMA.”

“Probably by the end of the week we will be able to (announce) something more public, but right now we are still in discussions about how we are going to participate with them,” Rees said.

On June 30, Christopher Lockwood, executive director of the Maine Municipal Association, sent a memo to municipal officials and General Assistance administrators advising them about the LePage administration’s decision to withhold state funding to communities that provide emergency aid – General Assistance or welfare – to undocumented immigrants, such as those who are awaiting word on asylum applications or holding expired visas.

Lockwood said conflicting opinions at the state level have placed municipalities in “an untenable position.”

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has said the state directive violates the state Constitution, while the LePage administration has argued that federal law doesn’t allow state reimbursement for illegal immigrants.

Lockwood said a municipality could be sued by a welfare applicant who applies for benefits and is denied. A city or town also could face a loss in benefits from the state if it grants General Assistance to an applicant under the current set of conflicting guidelines.

Lockwood said the MMA will initiate an action in Superior Court so that a judge can review the various opinions and rule on the sole question of whether the directive from the Department of Health and Human Services was properly promulgated and legally enforceable.

Lockwood, in his memo, said it is impossible to estimate how long the legal process will take to play out.

Eric Conrad, a spokesman for MMA, confirmed via email Monday that the lawsuit has not been filed yet.

“MMA wishes to stress that these actions are not political in nature and should be not be construed as such. Rather, the current situation, unfortunately, is confusing for municipal officials who work on the front lines and have to make decisions every day about offering, or declining to offer, General Assistance,” the MMA said in a statement on its website.

In May, Portland provided an estimated $250,000 in General Assistance to more than 600 individuals who would likely be denied assistance under the new DHHS policy. Portland received more than $7 million in total General Assistance funding from the state in 2013.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.