The city of Portland and two nonprofit organizations will receive close to $900,000 in federal funds to help pay for the cost of handling an influx of more than 300 asylum-seeking immigrants who streamed into the city earlier this year.

The federal funding essentially matches about $900,000 that was raised in private donations to help provide shelter, housing and other services for the asylum seekers who flooded into the city after they crossed into the U.S. at the southern border with Mexico.

Sen. Susan Collins announced the funding in a tweet Friday morning.

“Portland and the surrounding communities stepped up, and numerous volunteers compassionately met the humanitarian needs of asylum seekers, but the expense should not fall on the people of Maine alone,” Collins said. “A national crisis requires a national solution.”

Starting in June, as many as three to four families from African countries such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo began arriving weekly at Portland’s family shelter after crossing the southern U.S. border. The city turned the Portland Expo into a large temporary shelter as the number of asylum seekers increased.

Jessica Grondin, a spokeswoman for the city, said Friday that City Hall had been notified of the award and was working with federal officials to finalize receipt of the funding.

“We are just very, very thankful to Sen. Collins and the entire Congressional delegation from Maine,” Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said Friday in a phone interview from Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was traveling as part of a state trade delegation.

In addition to $864,000 for the city of Portland, the federal funding includes $20,400 for the Preble Street social service agency and $8,100 for the Jewish Community Alliance, two nonprofits that assisted with providing services.

Jennings said the funding was going to be a “tremendous help” in covering the costs of an “emergent situation that was just dropped into our lap in June.”

He said costs from turning the Portland Expo into an emergency shelter included employee overtime and other expenses, but a final tally was still being calculated. Grondin said the city’s extra costs had exceeded $200,000, based on estimates presented at the City Council’s last Finance Committee meeting several months ago.

The Expo shelter shut down in August, with some families settling in with hosts in Portland or other communities, finding housing of their own or moving into the city’s family shelter.

Many of those who landed at the Expo had endured perilous journeys, traveling for months from Africa, arriving first in Brazil or other countries in South and Central America before traveling north, often on foot, through jungles and over mountains to Mexico and eventually the U.S. border.

Grondin and Jennings said the city continues to absorb costs related to the asylum seekers, as several families that were being housed by host families in the area had returned to the city’s family shelter recently and the city was working with them to find permanent housing. Grondin said the family shelter presently has the capacity to meet the demand for emergency housing.

Jennings noted that the federal funding means the cost of the city’s response to the crisis would not have to be paid for by local property taxpayers alone. But he said Portland would continue to face costs, as additional families trickle into the city or while the city works with those who already have arrived to help them become established in Maine.

“The city’s commitment to the asylum seekers did not end when we closed the Expo (shelter) on Aug. 15,” Jennings said.

The $900,000 raised through private donations will be used to reimburse some of the costs that local nonprofits incurred when they helped with the shelter at the Expo. The donated money also will be used to help asylum-seeking families find permanent housing, Grondin said.

The federal grant amounts announced Friday are part of more than $30 million in emergency funding that was earmarked for U.S. cities that are coping with an influx of asylum seeking immigrants, many from sub-Saharan Africa.

Collins, one of the most senior Republican members on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was instrumental in the funds coming to Portland, which received the second largest grant behind San Diego, as part of the $4.5 billion package aimed at addressing the crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, serves on the Appropriations Committee in the House and was instrumental in advocating for the federal funds. Pingree and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills hosted a roundtable meeting on the situation in Portland in June. Mills also issued an executive order making state General Assistance funding available to those seeking asylum in Maine, a reversal of policy put in place by her predecessor, Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

In July, Mills wrote the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which awarded the grants, urging them to include Maine in their allocation of emergency funds.

““Simply put, Maine did its part, and with this award, I am glad FEMA has heeded my call for the federal government to step up and do its part too,” Mills said in a prepared statement Friday from Iceland, where she also was participating in the trade delegation.

The federal funding measure also included $2.88 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services so it could provide adequate and appropriate shelter for the hundreds of immigrant children in its custody.

Pingree said Friday she was pleased that Maine, even though it was far from the southern border, was awarded funding. She said conversations with southern border state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle made the inclusion of Portland possible.

She also said that while the funding was a positive move, the city would likely need more help in the months ahead.

“Certainly Mainers donated a lot, they contributed a lot of in-kind support, and we’ve been very welcoming to the new arrivals, but it will be a continuing challenge for the state and the city and we will continue to do all we can to make sure there is some federal support,” Pingree said.

 

 

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