General Assistance directive is penny wise, pound foolish

This June, Governor LePage directed municipalities to stop giving General Assistance funds to undocumented immigrants or risk losing state funding of General Assistance. While LePage may tout this instruction as “welfare reform,” the reality is this directive is bad for Maine citizens and immigrants alike.

In order to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving General Assistance, municipalities would have to demand proof of citizenship from everyone applying for General Assistance. As Janet Mills, Maine’s Attorney General, stated in her response to LePage’s new rule: “people who seek General Assistance—the person fleeing domestic violence, the victim of human trafficking, the asylum seeker awaiting federal approval, the family who lost their home to fire or to war—are least likely to have this paperwork on hand during a crisis.” Requiring documentation wouldn’t just leave out undocumented immigrants, many of whom are trying to obtain asylum status or waiting for their visas to be renewed. Asylum seekers have traveled to the United States because of fear for their personal safety in their home country. The documentation requirement would also hurt some desperate Mainers and legal immigrants, who, due to the extenuating circumstances that force them to see General Assistance, are unable to obtain proper documentation.

Cutting undocumented people from General Assistance will not only result in the exclusion of people legally residing in Maine from receiving help. It will also result in an increase in homelessness and hunger. A 2009 study suggests that homelessness actually costs the state about $1,300 more than it does to house people long term. Homelessness and hunger often end in job loss, illness, and increased medical needs, all of which diminish the ability of people previously receiving General Assistance to stabilize their finances. Taxpayers, if the people are uninsured, will shoulder the medical costs and the economy will suffer for the long-term job loss.

In a Portland Press Herald interview about the issue, Portland resident Chris Torlone said, “I really do think that everyone does have a right to that kind of help. They’re still a human being. You don’t need a document to be a human being.” Financial logic agrees with Chris’s view. Compassion isn’t just humane—it’s also economical.