DHHS: Welfare benefits will be paid, applications processed in shutdown

Posted June 30, 2017, at 12:12 p.m.
Last modified July 03, 2017, at 11:58 p.m.

Welfare benefits will be paid to poor and elderly Mainers during a looming state shutdown, according to a Department of Health and Human Services memorandum.

The document was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of welfare recipients against Gov. Paul LePage and Ricker Hamilton, acting commissioner of DHHS.

[Here’s what happens when state government shuts down]

The lawsuit asked a federal judge to order DHHS to pay benefits to 450,000 Mainers and process applications for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and MaineCare.

A hearing on the suit was canceled Friday after a conference between attorneys and U.S. District Judge Jon Levy.

The parties have not withdrawn their complaint but are scheduled to update Levy on the status of the lawsuit in two weeks, according to information posted on the court’s electronic case filing system.

[Maine House budget vote falls short of total needed to stave off shutdown]

Hamilton said in the memo dated June 30 that TANF and SNAP payments for July have been processed, so benefits should be received on time.

The following DHHS offices will be open in the event of a shutdown to process applications for benefits: Augusta, Bangor, Biddeford, Caribou, Ellsworth, Farmington, Fort Kent, Houlton, Lewiston, Machias, Rockland, Sanford, Skowhegan, South Paris and South Portland.

Online applications also will be processed, the memorandum said.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Valerie Wicks of Augusta, called Hamilton’s decision “a victory” for welfare recipients in a press release.

Her co-counsel, Jack Comart of Augusta, claimed the lawsuit forced the state to continue paying benefits in a shutdown.

Efforts to reach representatives for LePage and DHHS were unsuccessful Friday. It is the practice of state agencies not to comment on pending litigation.

 

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