Portland is home to the vast majority of Maine’s asylum seekers, but several other Maine cities also may soon have to decide whether to continue providing General Assistance to asylum seekers after state legislators balked at including the aid in the state’s biennial budget.

Officials in Westbrook and Lewiston, for example, will have to choose to either continue paying tens of thousands of dollars annually from city coffers, or shed from the welfare rolls the scores of immigrants fleeing war, political or religious persecution in their home countries.

“At this point I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett. “I would say there’s a variety of opinions on the City Council, and we’ll have to have some discussion.”

Before last July, asylum-seekers had received General Assistance aid from cities and towns, with the state picking up at least half of the cost. The state paid for an even greater share in service-center locations such as Portland.

But Gov. Paul LePage upended that arrangement last July, when in the midst of his re-election campaign, he announced that the state would no longer pay for non-citizens whom he called “illegal immigrants.”

Although a court decision was critical of the administration’s tactics – and its use of the phrase “illegal immigrants” – the withholding of aid was declared legal, and in line with a 1996 federal welfare reform law that bars certain categories of non-citizens from receiving welfare.

To continue the reimbursements from the state, the legislature would have to pass a law affirming that asylum seekers may receive the aid. The issue became a sticking point in budget negotiations between legislative leaders, until the language was finally struck from the budget before both the state Senate and the House of Representatives approved the spending plan.

Portland, with an annual tab of $4 million to $5 million for aid to asylum seekers, dwarfs other communities.

But the issue will still need to be resolved in places like Lewiston, where in May, the most recent period for which data was available, the city provided general assistance benefits to 69 asylum-seekers, or about 36 percent of all general assistance paid that month. By the end of the fiscal year June 30, Lewiston expects to have spent about $165,000.

This is a sharp increase from about $130,000 spent six years ago, Barrett said. The upward trend is expected to continue next year, too, he said, as more asylum-seekers struggle to find housing in Portland, and are directed to Lewiston instead.

In Westbrook, the third largest provider of benefits to asylum-seekers, where so far this fiscal year 41 people have received about $81,000 in aid, city councilors will meet June 30 to determine whether to continue paying.

“We need to sit down with the mayor and council to make a policy decision going forward,” said Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant.

Although some local officials still hold out hope that legislators will approve a bill to provide the state funding to asylum seekers, at least one city administrator said aid will continue to be dispensed to residents of that community who are in need, regardless of their immigration status.

In South Portland, fewer than 10 asylum seekers received benefits last year, paid by the city, and there has been no decision to change that practice, said Kathleen Babeu, director of Social Services.

“I have not been given any direction to change anything I’m currently doing, and currently, we’re helping people in need,” Babeu said.