AUGUSTA — Legislative Republicans criticized the Mills administration Tuesday for using emergency housing funds to provide shelter and other services to asylum seekers while they are prohibited from working under federal law.

House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said during a State House news conference that data from MaineHousing shows that more than $33.2 million in emergency housing assistance has been provided to help asylum seekers, representing 63% of the total emergency housing funds. He said that level of spending is leaving “our homeless” and veterans behind.

Faulkingham said that “Maine is not immune to Biden’s border policy,” blaming President Biden for the influx of asylum seekers across the United States’ southern border.

“Taxpayers need to know how this money is being spent,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

“It’s really striking to me that folks in rural Maine are being told to do more with less, while Taj Mahals are being built for other folks in more urban places that aren’t even Maine residents or Maine citizens,” said Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle.

Faulkingham also accused Maine Democrats of looking to add 75,000 asylum seekers to the state by 2029. That claim is a mischaracterization of the Mills administration’s 10-year economic strategy, which set a target of attracting 75,000 new workers to fill vacant jobs by 2029.


Those new workers would include Maine’s youth and adult residents who need training or other help to join the workforce and may include some asylum seekers, the Mills administration said. Federal law, however, prohibits asylum seekers from working for an extended period after they arrive.

“Addressing this gap requires broad-based efforts to strengthen Maine’s workforce, which includes retaining our state’s youth, expanding available workforce training and development opportunities to help people into the workforce, and welcoming people from outside of Maine into the workforce,” said Tony Ronzio, spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

While Republicans criticized the “open border” with Mexico, they steered clear of addressing congressional Republicans’ decision to kill a bipartisan deal that included more border security and tighter immigration rules and was supported by Biden. The bill was supported by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, but blocked by strong Republican opposition after former President Donald Trump called it a political gift to Biden in advance of the election.

Ronzio said the Mills administration can’t change federal immigration policy – it can only respond to the effects of it.

“The Mills administration continues to press the federal government to reform and streamline the asylum seeking process, including expediting work authorizations, and we will continue to work closely with municipalities to address the issue of homelessness for all people,” Ronzio said.

In the last few years, Portland has opened a new 208-bed municipal shelter for single adults, and a nonprofit agency opened 179-bed shelter for asylum seekers, which freed up additional space at the city shelter.


Spending highlighted by Republicans includes nearly $14 million for a hotel in Saco to shelter 85 families, or as many as 325 people, on any given night. Another $4.4 million has been used for hotel costs in South Portland. And nearly $5.3 million has been allocated to the asylum seeker shelter in Portland.

The administration also has used nearly $14 million to provide incentives for private developers to build 950 units of affordable housing. About a third of that, $5 million, has been used to create nearly 130 units of housing in Portland, Brunswick and South Portland that will be available to asylum seekers for up to two years.

Seeking asylum in the U.S. is a long process. It can take up to a year to gather all of the evidence to support an asylum claim. Once filed, the individual has to wait at least 6 more months to apply for a work permit and the review process can take months.


Because asylum seekers are prohibited under federal law from working and cannot receive federal housing vouchers, many rely on Maine’s public assistance program.

Under Maine state law, General Assistance, which includes vouchers for food, housing, medicine and other basic needs during a crisis, must be provided to anyone in need, including people who are following a lawful process to seek asylum. Asylum seekers, many of whom arrive as families with young children, can only receive GA for two years.

The Mills administration recently unveiled a plan to create an Office of New Americans to better integrate immigrants into the state workforce and support communities absorbing new arrivals. If approved, Maine would become the 19th state in a network of similar offices that has been set up in state capitals across the country to support new arrivals.

The bill, L.D. 2167, was recommended for passage by the State and Local Government Committee, despite being opposed by the Republican members. It will be taken up by the House in the coming weeks.

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