AUGUSTA – A bill to remove limitations on food supplement benefits and MaineCare for non-citizens drew a crowd at the Maine State House for a public hearing.
Immigrant rights activists, the ACLU, and some state lawmakers testified in support of the bill Friday morning, though other state lawmakers voiced their concerns.
The bill would restore temporary assistance programs to non-citizens in the country legally.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Drew Gattine, D – Westbrook, said it would fill gaps in the system, helping those seeking asylum, waiting for green cards, or fleeing domestic violence, get on their feet.
“In Maine we face a lot of challenges in our economy based on workforce, based upon our aging population. We need to show that Maine is a welcoming place,” said Rep. Gattine.
In 2011, cuts were made to who was eligible for programs like SNAP and Medicaid. According to Maine Equal Justice, about 500 Mainers lost their access to MaineCare when those cuts were implemented.
One lawmaker who helped pass those cuts ahead of a looming budget crisis is against this bill.
“It’s difficult to expand services to one group of individuals when another group of people has been waiting for their services for quite some time now,” said Rep. Beth O’Connor, R – Berwick.
She said while she supports legal immigration, people like the elderly and the disabled have been waiting longer for the same services.
Rep. O’Connor also said the federal government should get rid of the waiting period before asylum seekers are allowed to work.
She said her concerns are, “for those who have qualified. And my heart bleeds for veterans who are homeless and on the streets who have served their country here.”
But for immigrants speaking about their own experience, they said it was those assistance programs that helped them start working and start paying back into the same programs.
“It’s just the human thing to do…when we help we’re also investing, so it’s an investment,” said Mufalo Chitam, the executive director for Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition. “We have strength and we are resilient and we’re a strong people.”
The bill remains in committee to be worked on before it can move to the full legislature.