AUGUSTA – Immigrants, business and faith leaders, and advocates held a press conference today to urge legislators to reject proposed cuts to certain aid programs. The Appropriations and Health and Human Services Committees will consider the cuts, contained Gov. LePage’s proposed budget, at a hearing this afternoon.
The cuts would eliminate certain assistance programs, including General Assistance (GA), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Supplement benefits, and State Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for asylum seekers and other new Mainers.
Many of those who would be affected by the cuts are lawfully seeking asylum in the United States and awaiting permission to work – a process that can take months or even years. In the meantime, they have no source of income. Public assistance programs provide critical support to help them pay rent and buy food until they are legally allowed to begin earning money.
Members of at least 40 organizations from around the state, including members of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Organization and others, are urging legislators to reject the cuts.
The following quotes can be attributed as noted:
Robyn Merrill, executive director, Maine Equal Justice Partners: "The majority of individuals who would be impacted by this proposal are asylum applicants who have lawfully come here fleeing violence and persecution in their country of origin. GA is what enables them to pick up the pieces and start a new life in a foreign land. This support is critical as they navigate their way through the federal application process in order to be granted asylum and move along the path toward citizenship."
Mouna Ismail, United Somali Women of Maine: "Today, I am able to support myself and my children. But when I arrived in Lewiston, I received General Assistance, which helped me and my children feel safe while recovering from the suffering of our past. General Assistance, TANF and Food Supplement benefits provide important support to families; they provide basic necessities which are a basic human right, they are sources of hope, they are signs for the poor that society still cares, and they are also a sign of solidarity when some members of our community feel left behind. I believe if these benefits are interrupted, many mothers and children will be left homeless and starving. I don’t even want to imagine what the future will be like for asylum seekers without access to those benefits."
Richard Berman, founder, Developers Collaborative: “General Assistance is an investment in our economy and in our future. If we really want to attract business to Maine, we need workers – and providing temporary assistance to new Mainers is essential to supporting our future workforce. We need to spend the money to keep that talent here, or we will lose it.”
Rev. Sue Gabrielson, executive director, Maine Council of Churches: "Eliminating GA for new Mainers is turning our backs on some of our state's most vulnerable residents – many of whom have already experienced extreme hardship and trauma. Doing so does not align with Maine values; instead, we should be welcoming newcomers to our state and supporting policy that is based on compassion for all of our neighbors, regardless of where they were born."
Oamshri Amarasingham, policy counsel, ACLU of Maine:
“The fundamental protections of due process and equal protection embodied in our Constitution apply to all people. The framers understood the essential importance of protecting noncitizens against this sort of discrimination.”