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Maine proposal cuts assistance for asylum seekers

December 24, 2013

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has proposed a rule that would prevent asylum seekers from getting cash assistance.

The Republican governor previously issued an executive order allowing state agencies to question people about their immigration status before granting services or benefits. His new proposal for the General Assistance program would impact new immigrants who aren’t citizens and aren’t official refugees.

A spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services told the Portland Press Herald (http://bit.ly/1kCHHv2 ) that only the state funding portion would end and that cities and towns could still spend their dollars to serve that population. John Martins said he doesn’t know how many people would be affected.

Critics say ending funding for the program will force communities to provide basic needs for asylum seekers through soup kitchens and emergency shelters.

“This would be devastating for Portland and Lewiston. There are hundreds of people who would lose assistance,” said Robyn Merrill, a policy analyst for the Maine Equal Justice Partners. “We think we have a strong equal-protection argument here.”

Leonce Ntungwanayo, 24, fled Burundi and applied for asylum shortly after coming to Maine in April 2011. He relied on General Assistance for five months while he awaited permission from the federal government to work here.

″(General Assistance) is important. They need it to start a new life,” said Ntungwanayo, who now works as a pharmacy technician. “Since I got my work permit, I am independent.”

The state will hold a public hearing on the proposed rule change Jan. 10 in Augusta.

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Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

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