LEWISTON, Maine — Mayor Robert Macdonald announced a city effort to cut down on welfare fraud and waste Tuesday that includes kicking 84 people off the city’s General Assistance lists, 50 of them for fraud.
It’s part of a larger campaign aimed at cutting down on welfare cheats in the city.
“We’re not going to be known as a welfare town anymore,” Macdonald said. “If you want to come here, don’t come here for welfare because if we catch you, you will be prosecuted.”
Police Chief Mike Bussiere said the police were pursuing fraud charges for 12 of the 50 cut from the city’s welfare rolls. He declined to name any of those 12, but said they could face charges for a Class E misdemeanor and jail terms of up to six months in jail, as well as fines, if convicted.
“Our job is to investigate the complaint,” Bussiere said. “The city, just like anyone else that suspects they are a victim of fraud, gets to make a complaint. Our job is to develop probable cause and determine if a crime has been committed.
Macdonald promised there would be more charges filed later in the year.
“Before the summer, it is going be a much larger number,” Macdonald said. “And the ones we are going after next are a lot more serious.”
Sue Charron, Lewiston’s social services director, said the city serves general assistance to 225 people. Single recipients can be eligible for up to $471 per month to help pay for basic necessities — housing, utilities, medicine and food.
Charron said 34 of the people cut had neglected administrative requirements. They had not completed their required job training programs, had quit a job or were fired. They were not accused of fraud, she said.
Of the 50 accused of fraud, Charron said most had lied about applying for work. General assistance recipients must fill out a form detailing where they applied for jobs.
“They need to actually leave applications so when we call, they can confirm it,” Charron said. “What they were doing was just writing names down and they were not actually applying for work.
Charron said the city does occasionally check those forms.
“We try to do it as best we can, but we had not done it for some time because we have been so busy,” Charron said. “But we took a bunch and decided to check.”
People can be kicked off the general assistance roles for up to 120 days if the department finds fraud. Charron said the department has done similar checks in the past
“But what happens, their assistance is disqualified for 120 days,” Charron said. “On the 121st day, they can come back and they don’t have to make restitution or anything. But they can be charged. What we are going to do now in Lewiston is, if you commit fraud, you will be charged. It’s not going to be as easy as just coming back.”
Macdonald said he also wants the city to adopt rules fining landlords when their tenants misbehave.
“If police are called to a certain residency a certain number of times in one month the landlord is fined $50,” Macdonald said.
Macdonald said he’s not targeting the poor, but the dishonest.
“We have the working poor down there,” Macdonald said. “Those are the people that work in the coffee shops. Those are the people that get up every morning and go to jobs. However, a lot of them are kept up all night long by some of the people we are charging. These people sleep all day and party all night.”