A lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court is asking a federal judge to order Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to continue paying benefits to poor Mainers if state government shuts down over the budget stalemate.
The lawsuit brought against LePage and Acting DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton asks the federal court to order that the DHHS continue to receive applications, process applications and maintain the issuance of benefits and services during any state shutdown.
“The next step in this fight is for either the governor to order that these programs continue or the court to order it,” attorneys Valerie Wicks and Jack Comart, both of Augusta, said in news release announcing the lawsuit had been filed. “The parties hope to have an answer by Friday, one way or another.”
“The governor has repeatedly stated that he will do ‘no harm’ to Maine’s elderly and disabled,” Comart said in the release. “If the governor can protect state parks from vandalism during a state shutdown, we hope that he will also protect Maine’s most vulnerable.”
Peter Steele, spokesman for LePage, said that the governor’s office could not comment on pending litigation.
LePage has said that he would keep the state parks open and staffed during a shutdown to avoid possible vandalism in them.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven defendants who receive state aid. They identified only by their initials.
“Without an injunction, thousands of Mainers will risk going without food and medical care,” Comart said in his motion for a temporary restraining order. “Others will face loss of shelter. Granting temporary relief here will avoid these grave and serious consequences and maintain the status quo. The injunction is clearly in the public interest.”
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jon Levy.
A hearing on the motion for the injunction has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Comart said late Thursday afternoon.
The hearing would only be held if the LePage administration has no plan to pay benefits during a shutdown. If benefits will be paid during a shutdown, the hearing would be canceled.