Brennan: Going it alone on General Assistance would be ‘impossible’ for Portland

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan in December 2013. BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan in December 2013. BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett.

If the city of Portland loses the roughly $8 million annually in General Assistance reimbursements, don’t expect the city to make up the difference on its own.

It would be “financially impossible,” Portland Mayor Michael Brennan told Governing, according to a report published Dec. 30. That will be little comfort to the roughly 4,300 households that received assistance through the program last year.

The city, along with Westbrook and the Maine Municipal Association, filed a lawsuit against the state, seeking a judge’s ruling over whether the administration of Gov. Paul LePage acted improperly when it decreed that any municipality that gives General Assistance funds to so-called “undocumented immigrants” will lose all state funding for the program.

Portland, Westbrook and some other municipalities have ignored the new ruling.

The cities claim that LePage circumvented the legally required rule-writing process, while the governor says he’s simply enforcing existing federal law. Attorney General Janet Mills has also raised questions about whether the new policy violates the U.S. and Maine constitutions.

General Assistance is a need-based welfare program designed to offer temporary, emergency aid for residents whose income isn’t enough to cover basic necessities such as food, rent or heat. Last year, Portland gave out about $10 million through the program, and was reimbursed for about $8 million.

7 stories you need to read

With the holidays and the quiet preparations for the upcoming legislative session, December and the first week of January are quiet months at the State House. But here’s some news from the last week that will keep you in the know.

  • Gov. LePage made two nominations for Cabinet-level positions last week. One, Richard Rosen for finance commissioner, is an established commodity in the LePage administration. The other, Tom Desjardin for education commissioner, is a relative unknown, with seemingly little relevant experience — and the administration is keeping him away from reporters. Both are already serving as “acting” commissioners in their respective departments; full-time approval of their nominations is subject to Senate approval.
  • With implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare” to most of you) heading into its second year, Health Editor Jackie Farwell offer her assessment for the programs future in Maine. The diagnosis? Supreme uncertainty.
  • The legislative session starts Wednesday. LePage has to give lawmakers his budget proposal by Friday. Expect revenue sharing — the state’s method for distributing a portion of tax revenue for local services — to be a prime battle. State Politics Editor Scott Thistle of the Sun Journal has the scoop.
  • “Pledges among lawmakers to work with their colleagues from the other party — which swirl around the beginning of legislative sessions in January like snowflakes — are on borrowed time. Tick, tick, tick. The alarm goes off next week. Or is it a time bomb?” — That’s BDN State House Bureau Chief Chris Cousins, who outlines what’s expected in the next legislative session.
  • At finally, a pair of features about two top powerbrokers in state politics: I’ve got a story on GOP political strategist Brent Littlefield, the man behind upstart political victories by Paul LePage (twice) and Bruce Poliquin. Then, BDN reporter Julia Bayley writes about John Martin, the so-called “Earl of Eagle Lake,” who will wield his five decades of lawmaking experience to amass influence in this session’s divided Legislature.
Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.