AUGUSTA — Lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would allow Maine’s growing population of asylum-seeking immigrants to receive General Assistance for as long as two years, sending the bill to Gov. Paul LePage for an all-but-guaranteed veto.

LePage’s veto threat means that uncertainty hangs over an issue that could affect an estimated 1,000 immigrants in the Portland area, and the city of Portland’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The bill (L.D. 369) received final approval in the House and Senate on Tuesday without debate, but an earlier House vote fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Nevertheless, advocates for Maine’s immigrant community were pleased to see momentum on an issue that became embroiled in hard-fought budget negotiations between Democrats and House Republicans.

“I think it’s great and give credit to both bodies that they got the bill to this point where it has finally been enacted,” said Christine Hastedt, public policy director with Maine Equal Justice Partners, an Augusta-based legal nonprofit that works with immigrants and low-income Mainers. “There has been a real change in understanding of this issue both within this building and outside, and I think folks really understand this population better now.”

The bill now headed to LePage’s desk would limit “lawfully present” immigrants to two years of General Assistance, the temporary assistance program that provides emergency vouchers for housing, heat, medicine and other basic necessities. Last year, the LePage administration stopped reimbursing municipalities for GA paid to asylum seekers and other legal non-citizens, prompting legal challenges from the cities of Portland and Westbrook as well as the Maine Municipal Association.


LePage and his Republican allies have argued that Maine is becoming a magnet for asylum-seeking immigrants fleeing persecution in their home countries because it is one of the few states that provide welfare to such immigrants. They said pushed to earmark that money to reduce the backlog of disabled and elderly Mainers awaiting state services.

Meanwhile, more than a half-dozen other welfare reform bills appear dead for the year as Democrats rejected a laundry list of proposals from Republican lawmakers and the LePage administration.

Legislative leaders held a slew of welfare reform bills until the final days of the session in part because welfare policy became a sticking point in negotiations over the state’s $6.7 billion two-year budget. LePage and Republican lawmakers made welfare reform central tenets of their fall campaigns but had marginal success convincing leery Democrats to support their policies.

More than a half-dozen welfare reform bills will likely die between the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. They include proposals to:

Impose a 9-month cap on General Assistance benefits (L.D. 1035)

Require individuals reside in Maine for at least six months in order to receive General Assistance, TANF or food stamps, which supporters said was needed to address abuse but opponents countered was unconstitutional (L.D. 1037)


Require some TANF and food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing if a screening test indicates possible substance abuse problems (L.D. 1407)

Place restrictions on access to cash welfare through the TANF program and prohibit the use of Maine-issued electronic benefit cards outside of the state (L.D. 1375)

Require any EBT replacement cards feature a picture ID of the holder and increase penalties for those found trafficking in EBT cards (L.D. 607)

Prohibit those who have hit the 60-month lifetime cap on TANF benefits from also receiving General Assistance (L.D. 368)

Republicans, led by LePage, accused Democrats of ignoring the will of Maine voters last November.

“Liberal welfare policies have failed Maine throughout decades of one-party rule in the state Legislature, and today’s Democrats, who are controlled by the welfare-activist group Maine People’s Alliance, have shown that they are not interested in change of any kind,” LePage said in a statement.


Democrats said they were merely blocking heavy-handed proposals that would have harmed struggling families.

“At a time when Maine’s economy lags behind in job growth and wages, we need meaningful welfare reform that helps put struggling folks back to work,” Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, co-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said in a statement. “So many of the welfare changes we rejected would only put up roadblocks to independence. There is a clear difference between positive reform and harmful changes.”

The fate of several other welfare reform proposals – including one, L.D. 1144, to prohibit the use of EBT cards to purchase alcohol and tobacco – remained unclear on Tuesday night.

Lawmakers did agree to create a tiered welfare benefits system in order to address the “welfare cliff,” which is when welfare recipients are discouraged from accepting a job or a higher-paying position because they would lose all welfare benefits. The policy changes intended to address the “welfare cliff” are contained in the $6.7 billion budget now on LePage’s desk.

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