AUGUSTA — Maine legislative leaders unanimously approved a request Thursday for $30,000 from their operating account to help people who lost their homes in three devastating apartment building fires find new housing.

About 200 people have been left homeless by fires during the past week in Maine’s second-largest city. Many of those burned out of their homes have been staying at the Colisee arena in Lewiston.

Legislative Council, which includes House and Senate leaders from both parties, voted without debate to approve the funding request from members of the Lewiston legislative delegation. The money will be given to the City of Lewiston, which will administer housing vouchers that could be used for a security deposit and possibly first month’s rent for homeless families.

Several leaders spoke in favor the motion by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Assistant Republican Minority Leader Roger Katz said this is a time for the state to band behind Lewiston.

“It was Lewiston, it could have been Augusta,” said Katz, a former mayor of Maine’s capital city.

“These are some of the poorest among us and they really need our help,” said Rep. Alexander Willette of Mapleton, the assistant House GOP leader.


Thursday’s action put to rest days of partisan sparring over the use of government money to help the fire victims. Democrats on Tuesday called on Gov. Paul LePage to use his money from his emergency contingency fund to assist in the fire response effort. They cited state law allowing the governor to allocate $350,000 for emergency use.

The governor initially said he wasn’t aware of any discretionary funding at his disposal, and his fellow Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with the issue. Republicans also noted that donations were being given to the Red Cross, and that state Health and Human Services Department and Housing Authority were working with fire victims to ensure continuation of benefits and find alternative housing.

After the council’s vote Thursday, a spokeswoman for LePage said the governor “has previously said he’ll match anything council contributes.”

Investigators say two of the fires were intentionally set by 12-year-old boys, who are in custody. No deaths or major injuries resulted from the fires.

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