PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland announced Tuesday evening it will join the Maine Municipal Association lawsuit challenging whether Gov. Paul LePage has the authority to cut off General Assistance aid to undocumented immigrants.
Lewiston’s top administrator said earlier Tuesday his city has not taken that step, and Bangor City Solicitor Norman Heitmann did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment on whether the Queen City plans to join the association lawsuit.
But officials with all three of Maine’s largest cities — as well as the fourth largest city, South Portland — have said they’ll continue distributing General Assistance benefits to undocumented immigrants, despite the governor’s threats to cut off funding for municipalities that do so.
General Assistance is a program to provide temporary assistance to families or individuals who cannot afford life necessities, such as heat, housing, food or utilities. The program is administered at the municipal level but funded by a combination of state and local dollars. The state reimburses towns for between 50 and 90 percent of General Assistance costs, at a total annual price of around $17.8 million.
Last month, the LePage administration declared it would no longer distribute General Assistance aid for undocumented immigrants, then subsequently went a step further to say he would cut off the subsidies entirely for municipalities which didn’t comply with the order.
Democrat Attorney General Janet Mills countered; in her opinion, the governor had no standing to take either step. The municipal association followed with a lawsuit designed to seek a Superior Court determination on the subject once and for all.
Portland city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday evening the city has decided to file as a co-plaintiff alongside the Maine Municipal Association in its lawsuit.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who said the governor’s rule could cost his city $250,000 in aid per month, has called LePage’s stance “incredibly unfortunate.”
Lewiston City Manager Ed Barrett said Tuesday his city remains in a holding pattern on the topic.
“At the moment, we have not changed anything,” he said. “We had an opportunity to discuss the situation with the City Council on June 17, where it was just breaking news at that point. At that time, the council decided, given the uncertainty under the situation, to continue operating as we had in the past.”
The governor’s administration has defended its position on the issue, citing a 1996 federal law that determined undocumented immigrants would only be eligible for the aid in states where laws are passed saying so explicitly and noting no such state laws have since been passed.
Since the announcement of the new rule, LePage and other administration representatives repeatedly have said the step will ensure funds are available to help U.S. citizens and others who have obtained documented status, and cities that choose to distribute the money to “illegal aliens” are reaching beyond federal requirements and overtaxing Mainers to do so.