June 20, 2018
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Panhandler suspended from general assistance for failing to report income

Shawn Yardley
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor panhandler has been removed from general assistance for 120 days for failing to reveal the income, a consequence that could slow the spread of panhandling, according to the community’s public services director.

During a meeting of city staff, Bangor police officials and shelter personnel earlier this month, police mentioned they were contemplating ways to control panhandling in the city, according to Shawn Yardley, director of health and community services for the city.

As a result of that meeting, police and shelter officials agreed they would pass the names of known panhandlers to city staff who administer and monitor general assistance, an emergency safety net program administered by municipalities and funded by a mixture of state and federal dollars.

One of the first names police presented yielded results. The panhandler, the only one to receive a sanction so far, has not been identified because he or she has not been charged with a crime.

“By chance … that person was being seen later that day for general assistance,” Yardley said earlier this week during a budget meeting with city councilors.

After sitting down with a general assistance staff member, the recipient failed to reveal the panhandling income and was disqualified from the program for 120 days.

Yardley said during the budget meeting that he thought word of the punishment would spread among the panhandling community and make some think twice about hiding income from the city.

“They can still panhandle, but they need to disclose their income,” Yardley said.

Yardley said Friday that he didn’t have any statistics on how much panhandlers typically make in Bangor. Panhandling has become a common sight in the area around the Bangor Mall, as well as other heavily traveled routes, such as Hogan Road and Union Street.

The maximum a person can receive under general assistance is about $550 per month, an amount the state reduced by about 10 percent from last year, according to Yardley. The amount received decreases if the individual has other sources of income. Applicants fill out forms and are required to disclose what, if any, other income they have and outline how they spend their money. That information is used to determine what their general assistance amount will be, Yardley said.

City officials say they have taken steps to mitigate welfare fraud. In 2012, Bangor administered general assistance to 1,608 qualifying individuals, who received about $2.8 million, mostly in housing assistance. That year, the city expelled 192 of those people for 120 days after finding they violated program rules. About five of those people went on to face criminal charges related to fraud.

“We are concerned about it. We are trying to maintain a program with integrity,” Yardley said, adding that general assistance administrators would continue to work with police to ensure that recipients are being forthright in reporting income.

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