The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to use private donations to continue providing financial assistance to asylum-seekers who are ineligible for state aid.

But councilors were careful not to delve into a deeper policy discussion about whether the city should continue to provide financial assistance to non-citizens – a policy that prompted the city not to accept a federal law enforcement grant.

City Manager Jon Jennings has proposed phasing out the Portland Community Support Fund over the next two years. The council will have a workshop on the proposal Monday.

The council action gave Jennings the authority to spend $45,000 in private donations to the fund.

“Our role right now is to thank those who are continuing to support folks in need in our community,” said City Councilor Justin Costa, who helped create the special fund for asylum-seekers in 2015. “The bigger conversation will take place at a later time as we go through the budget process.”

Jennings said the donations will allow the city to continue providing rental assistance for people now enrolled in the program. Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilor Pious Ali were worried that some people may no longer have access to medication and others may be turned away because of funding issues.

But City Councilor Jill Duson said she was confident that would not occur. “I’m feeling pretty confident that our manager isn’t going to be putting people out on the street in the (next) two months,” Duson said. 

The Portland Community Support Fund was established to help immigrants who had been deemed ineligible for state assistance because they had not yet formally filed an application for asylum. Immigrants can qualify for state-funded General Assistance support once an asylum application is filed. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work for at least six months, and do not receive federal support available to refugees.

After filing an application, asylum-seekers can receive state General Assistance for up to two years because of a state law change in 2015. Since it can take years for applicants to get a ruling on asylum, the fund has continued to provide support for rent, food, medicine and other necessities for asylum-seekers who are unable to work.

Portland leaders have affirmed their support for immigrants and asylum seekers, even as some conservative pundits have pointed to Maine’s largest city as a reason to crack down on immigration.

The current budget included $200,000 for the fund, but Jennings has said the fund was $35,000 over budget through March and the city stopped accepting new applicants.

In response to recent news articles about the increased flow of families into the city’s Family Shelter, the city has received $45,000 in private donations, which will be used to continue providing rental assistance to people currently enrolled in the program, he said.

And a church group dropped off a large donation of personal products to the city’s Family Shelter, which is overflowing with families seeking asylum, many from sub-Saharan African countries.

Jennings said his budget proposal includes $150,000 to continue rental assistance to people currently enrolled in the program.

“We are seeking support from other community groups and for the rest of the community to step up and help,” Jennings said. 

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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