June 18, 2018
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Portland settles lawsuit with state over withholding General Assistance

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew
By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Portland have reached a settlement in the city’s lawsuit over the agency withholding about $1.6 million in General Assistance reimbursement.

DHHS paid the city about $1.3 million and agreed to drop its appeal of an earlier court ruling in Portland’s favor, the city announced Tuesday.

“We’re extremely pleased that we can put this matter behind us now,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in a statement.

The suit came after DHHS found fault with the Portland billing for operations costs at the city-run Oxford Street Shelter, where an audit claimed that 13 people had more than $20,000 in their bank accounts. The city agreed to change its billing practices to address the audit, although previous administrations had not taken issue with how Portland requested reimbursement, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

Nonetheless, the agency tried to retroactively withhold reimbursement for General Assistance payment from the city for the period of June 2014 through February 2015. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found this to be illegal in August and DHHS appealed before eventually settling.

“The City of Portland has successfully completed their corrective action in the GA program to the state’s satisfaction which will save state taxpayers,” said DHHS spokeswoman Samantha Edwards. “Instead of pursuing costly legal appeals, the department has agreed to pay Portland approximately $1.3 million.”

The lawsuit was filed at a time when Gov. Paul LePage’s administration and that of former Portland Mayor Michael Brennan regularly engaged in public conflict over p roviding aid to refugees, asylum seekers and others who traveled to the city as a place of last resort for their basic needs.

Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.

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