AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted along party lines Thursday to endorse a bill that would restore non-citizens’ access to food stamps and MaineCare benefits.

The bill would once again allow asylum seekers and other legal non-citizens to qualify for health coverage through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, as well as for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs.

Non-citizens’ access to those welfare programs was restricted in 2011 by former Gov. Paul LePage as part of the welfare reforms his administration shepherded through the Republican-controlled Legislature at that time.

Democrats now control both chambers of the Legislature as well as the governor’s office with the election in November of Gov. Janet Mills. On Thursday, the eight Democratic members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted to support the policy reversal, while four Republican lawmakers opposed it.

It’s estimated that the bill, L.D. 1317, will cost the state between $7.1 million and $7.3 million a year.

Under the bill, someone would be eligible if they were considered “lawfully present in the United States with the knowledge and permission of the United States Department of Homeland Security” or who were “pursuing a lawful process to apply for immigration relief.”

The bill, as well as a host of other welfare and General Assistance-related bills, now will go to the full House and Senate for consideration. The Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee alsowould have to fund the measure or incorporate it into the budget because of the price tag.

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