Committee approves of Chipman bill for General Assistance fairness

Posted: May 08, 2017 | Senator Chipman

A bill introduced by Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, to ease the burden currently borne by Portland taxpayers who pay the cost of General Assistance to people experiencing homelessness and staying in Portland shelters received a 7-5 vote in favor of its passage in the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on May 4.

General Assistance is a last-resort emergency form of assistance used to cover the cost of housing and other essential services for Maine families at immediate risk of destitution or homelessness. Under current law, a homeless person staying in a shelter is considered a resident of the town where the shelter is located. That determination results in residents of towns with homeless shelters, such as Portland, paying a disproportionate amount of the total statewide cost of General Assistance. Current law also requires that the municipality where the person receives General Assistance pay 30 percent of that cost, with 70 percent being paid by the State.

Sen. Chipman’s bill — LD 1109 “An Act To Improve General Assistance Reimbursements” — would, as amended, allow municipalities to count administration costs incurred when disbursing General Assistance towards that 30 percent. This offsets a portion of the disproportionate costs incurred by municipalities with homeless shelters.

“Just because Portland residents and leaders understand that you should provide shelter when it is needed doesn’t mean that our residents should have to shoulder the financial burden of providing General Assistance to other town’s residents,” said Sen. Chipman. “This bill will help relieve the burden Portland residents bear.”

Portland operates both the state’s largest adult shelter and largest family shelter. Both are currently at maximum capacity. In March 2017, 34 percent of new intakes at the Oxford Street Shelter — people checking in for the first time — identified themselves as having resided somewhere other than Portland. For the year prior (March 2016 to March 2017) 33 percent of all individuals using the Oxford Street Shelter identified this way.

During a recent public hearing on LD 1109, David MacLean, the Social Services Director for the City of Portland told Committee members that people experiencing homelessness “are often told that their municipality does not have a shelter and they are then provided information on what shelters are available… We know that most of the time all arrows point to Portland.”

LD 1109 now heads to the Senate for initial votes.