Officials from the city of Auburn and Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services pose for a photo this week while announcing a partnership to offer services out of the city’s office at 95 Main St. The partnership is part of a strategy to respond to a surge in demand for General Assistance. From left are Abdikadir Negeye, Jama Mohamed, Sidnei Degois, Jamie Longley, TJ Abacha, Mohammad Yousuf Alokozay, Nadifo Nur and Zakk Maher. Submitted photo

AUBURN — The city announced a partnership Monday with the nonprofit Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, as officials look to expand access to a broad range of community services in order to confront a large demand for General Assistance.

The General Assistance program provides financial assistance for housing, food and other necessities for people who can’t meet their basic needs on their own. Municipalities are required by state law to administer General Assistance, but it is mostly funded by the state.

The partnership will see MEIRS offer services such as resettlement support, employment assistance, and family services out of the city’s Community Development and General Assistance office at 95 Main St., across from Festival Plaza.

Zakk Maher, deputy director of business and community development, said the city began hosting a “drop-in” space for nonprofits at the Main Street office last summer, which he said came in response to “a significant rise in community need” after the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance program ended.

While that program alleviated some pressure on General Assistance programs between 2020-2022, he said there has been a “resurgence in demand” due to continually high housing and utility costs.

The demand has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, he said. In Auburn, requests for utility assistance skyrocketed from 11 cases in the previous year to over 200 cases within the past 12 months alone, underscoring the urgent need for support in our community.


Maher said part of the city’s strategy to address the need is partnering with community-based organizations. According to a news release, organizations such as Rumford Group Homes, the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, Community Concepts, and Housing Resources for Youth are already integrated with city services.

“These partnerships enable us to provide a warm hand-off to our partners who offer short-term services and funding, thereby reducing the reliance on city resources,” Maher said. “Our partners offer comprehensive wrap-around services, including employment training and housing stabilization, addressing the root causes of financial instability and promoting long-term self-sufficiency among Auburn residents.”

“We are thrilled to embark on this partnership with the City of Auburn,” Abdikadir Negeye, assistant director of MEIRS, said. “It represents our shared commitment to building a vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable community by strengthening our workforce, streamlining referrals from city staff, and better meeting the needs of Auburn residents.”

Jamie Longley, Auburn’s General Assistance manager, said the collaboration “will streamline access to vital resources for our residents, enabling us to more effectively connect individuals in need with both private and nonprofit service providers.”

The rising cost of General Assistance is not unique to Auburn. According to the Portland Press Herald, General Assistance costs jumped from $12.7 million statewide in 2019 to $37 million in 2022. Of that, the state paid $25.9 million.

Across the Androscoggin River, Lewiston has seen the same increase in need, particularly for rent payments. Lewiston had initially budgeted $807,000 for General Assistance this year, but as of the end of February had spent $1.9 million.


In Maine’s largest city, Portland officials are lobbying state lawmakers for more General Assistance funding, as they face a $7 million gap for General Assistance in next year’s budget. They are also lobbying the state to increase its General Assistance reimbursement rate from 70% to 90%.

In Auburn, Maher said having service providers onsite streamlines the process, allowing for “more efficient utilization of resources and maximizing the impact of every city dollar spent.”

He also said the majority of service providers operate independently of city funding, with those receiving city funding primarily supported through federal grants targeting homelessness.

“While the increase in General Assistance cases may appear alarming at first glance, it reflects a multifaceted reality shaped by the interplay of economic trends, sunsetting federal aid programs, and the ongoing effects of deferred actions during the pandemic,” he said. “Through proactive community development strategies and collaborative partnerships, our team remains committed to addressing the evolving needs of our residents.”

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