Proposals represent $650,000 cost shift to Portland tax payer
BY RAMONA DU HOUX
March 7, 2011
At a legislative public hearing today, City Councilor John Anton voiced opposition to proposed changes to the state mandated General Assistance (GA) program, as well as changes to the state’s MaineCare program, contained in the Governor’s proposed FY 2012-2013 biennial General Fund budget. The budget proposal calls for the reduction of the upper limit state reimbursement level for General Assistance from 90% to 75%, which translates directly into a cost shift of nearly $650,000 to the Portland taxpayer, as well as changes to other state and federal programs such as the extension of the denial period from 120 to 180 days, the denial provision for abandoning an available resource without good cause, the doubling of the waiting period for disability determination for temporary MaineCare coverage, the five (5) year cap on TANF benefits and the proposed elimination of State benefits for legal immigrants; all of which will increase the burden on GA, which in turn will increase the burden on local property tax payers.
“I believe these proposals are not good for Maine and its most vulnerable citizens, and more directly related to my role as City Councilor, these changes will result in an increased tax burden for the local property tax payer,” stated Councilor Anton.
“We, like virtually all municipalities in the state are witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of individuals seeking assistance for the first time. These individuals have strong and long-term work histories, and professional skill sets including secondary and graduate degrees from a variety of fields. Many of these first time applicants own their homes, have previously been employed and are now struggling with securing basic necessities,” continued Anton.
More than 90% of the general assistance granted in Portland is for food and shelter with assistance sought as the resource of last resort. GA recipients must liquidate all available resources including retirement accounts, savings and life insurance policies in order to qualify. Individuals who receive GA and are capable of working are required by the city to perform work for the municipality or for a local non-profit organization as a condition of receiving assistance. Workfare participants have increased four-fold from 25 per month in FY 2006 to 112 per month during FY 2010, mirroring the increase in Maine unemployment rates.
“While we are beginning to see signs of a slow economic recovery, we must remember that there are still tens of thousands of Mainer’s out of work, desperately trying to find a job, and turning to General Assistance as a last resort to stay in their home, feed their family, or purchase medications,” concluded Anton. “Were it not for this program many of the individuals seeking assistance at the General Assistance office would be knocking at the doors of our homeless shelters.”