Gov. Mills announces rule changes to allow asylum-seekers to qualify for general assistance

By  | 

PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that she has directed the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to make changes to the eligibility rules for general assistance to aid asylum-seekers who have come to the state.

Mills said under the amended rules, asylum-seekers need to provide proof of their eligibility. She added that the aid is time-limited and asylum-seekers must reapply each month. Asylum-seekers who qualify for general assistance would receive vouchers to buy basic items of need like food, medication and housing.

Mills said the changes bring the general assistance requirements in alignment with a 2015 law that people would be eligible for the program if they were either "lawfully present in the United States" or "pursuing a lawful process to apply for immigration relief."

Mills said the administration of former Gov. Paul LePage adopted regulations in 2016 that defined the terms in the 2015 law narrowly, and in some cases, excluded people considered to be eligible under the law.

Mills said DHHS is amending the definitions set by the LePage administration through an emergency rule change.

"These changes square Maine's rules with federal law and the intent of the Legislature, allowing municipalities to provide time-limited assistance to lawfully present people to help them on the path toward employment," DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said.

The city of Portland said has processed more than 300 asylum-seekers since the beginning of June. More than 200 continue to stay at an emergency shelter at the Portland Expo.

Under Maine law, municipalities, like Portland, offer general assistance to people who qualify. The municipality funds General Assistance, with DHHS reimbursing 70 percent of the costs, Mills said in a news release.

The changes are being submitted under the emergency rulemaking process, which means they take effect immediately. DHHS will then submit proposed rules on a non-emergency basis, which will include a public comment period, Mills said.

Mills also announced Thursday that she has asked the federal government to provide financial support to Maine municipalities and local organizations that are working to support asylum-seekers.