LEWISTON, Maine — Four months after 50 residents were kicked off the city’s General Assistance lists, seven of the people who were disqualified are again receiving city benefits.
Sue Charron, Lewiston’s social services director, said 12 of the disqualified people have met the city’s requirements to receive General Assistance, an emergency aid program run by each municipality.
Three of the 12 have not returned all of the proper paperwork, Charron said. “If they do, they would be eligible for assistance. And of the remaining nine, two have been disqualified again for not completing the work requirement.”
The city announced an effort in March to cut down on welfare fraud and waste. The city kicked 84 people off General Assistance; 50 were accused of fraud and the rest failed to look for work or to complete forms saying they had looked for work.
Single recipients can be eligible for up to $471 per month from the city to help pay for basic necessities such as housing, utilities, medicine and food.
People can only be kicked off General Assistance for 120 days if the department finds fraud, according to state rules.
“They are disqualified for two reasons: not filling out their job-search forms and not looking for jobs or for making fraudulent statements,” Charron said. “They sign a form saying they have looked for work at all of these places. If they have not looked, it’s a fraudulent statement.”
Charron said Lewiston paid General Assistance to 650 people in the 2012-13 fiscal year, with 173 cases last month. That was down from a steady 200 cases per month in January and February.
Police Lt. Mike McGonagle said six of the people kicked off were charged with fraud. They each face a Class E misdemeanor and a jail term of up to six months, as well as $1,000 in fines, if convicted.
“There were a lot of cases where people just had not been 100 percent accurate on their reporting,” McGonagle said. “Although there were some issues, it didn’t rise to the level of criminal charges in the District Attorney’s mind. People were spoken to, and they fixed things and were taken off of the rolls, but it may not have risen to the level where we could charge people.”
McGonagle said the low number of charges filed does not indicate that the effort didn’t work.
“The main goal was to get people cheating the system off of the system, and not to summon them,” McGonagle said. “We just want to correct a problem and make sure the money goes where it is supposed to — and not to cheaters.”