It’s good news for Portland that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has just agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a two-year-old lawsuit over state General Assistance reimbursements. But the relief at putting the case to rest is clouded by thoughts of the time, money and energy directed at resolving a problem that never was, created by state officials bent on scapegoating those in need.

General Assistance funds are distributed in cities and towns around Maine in the form of vouchers for housing, food, medication and other basic expenses. Portland sued the state after the DHHS declared it would no longer honor the informal 1989 agreement under which the city used GA funds to operate its homeless shelter and was reimbursed for most of its costs.

GA had already been in the crosshairs: The DHHS had said it would no longer reimburse cities for GA funds that went to legal noncitizens. The dispute was escalated when the LePage administration released a preliminary audit of Portland’s operation of the shelter that blasted Maine’s largest city for using more than its share of state resources.

Far from being reality-based, the attack was reflective instead of the DHHS’ obsession with ensuring that no undeserving people receive aid. Portland has repeatedly been found to be in compliance with state General Assistance standards – even by LePage administration audits.

The city has also adjusted its practices to comply with the state’s criticism that it didn’t review the financial status of people staying at the municipal shelter before billing the state GA program. But although much was made of the use of the shelter by people who reportedly had assets that could have paid for housing, these people are extraordinary cases. They account for a very small percentage of shelter residents.

Nobody stays on a thin foam rubber mat in the shelter, elbow to elbow with other people, if they have the means to sleep elsewhere. It’s a place for those without any options – and their ranks are great enough to make it a challenge for the shelter to serve them.

What’s more, Portland’s municipal facility is serving a statewide population: Historically, only about a third of shelter clients are city residents. Many come to Portland from other Maine communities because of the array and concentration of services here.

The city of Portland deserves kudos for standing up for the people who need General Assistance. And if the state really wants to help Portland reduce its GA spending, it should help make sure that the city isn’t left on its own, delivering services that are used by people from around Maine.