Members of Maine’s congressional delegation have asked the Biden administration to ease restrictions that could cut off key federal funding used to support asylum seekers in Portland and other Maine communities.

In a letter sent Thursday to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Rep. Chellie Pingree asked that his agency remove a limit on the federal Shelter and Services Program that restricts its use to 45 days within a migrant’s arrival in the United States.

Collins, King and Pingree asked that the Department of Homeland Security extend the 45-day period to 180 days so Maine communities and service agencies could still receive support.

“Maine immigrant services groups struggle with the 45-day limitation because migrants arriving in the state have typically been released from DHS custody many days prior, reducing the period in which these individuals and families may receive support,” they wrote. “This reality makes it impossible for many Maine programs to access SSP funding.”

Portland city officials say the time limit is part of a new, more limited federal program that replaces previous support the city used to fund its resettlement efforts. Unless the 45-day limit is removed or extended, the city and other agencies that work with migrants and asylum seekers could lose federal funding.

“Forty-five days works mostly for a lot of folks along the southern border,” said Aaron Geyer, Portland’s director of social services. That’s because asylum seekers often do not stay as long in border states, and it takes time for them to reach final destinations such as Maine, officials said.


“They get released from (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) and it’s a pretty quick turnaround,” Geyer said. “For destination cities away from the border, that’s where the negative impact comes in. The length of stay is often much greater than 45 days.”

The delegation’s request follows a plea that former Portland Mayor Kate Snyder made to state lawmakers last month seeking help to identify alternative state or federal funding to continue the city’s resettlement program.

Snyder wrote that Federal Emergency Management Agency funding used to support the city’s program is slated to expire at the end of this year and will be replaced with a new program that restricts funding to services provided within just 45 days of migrants’ arrival in the United States.

“While this funding will continue to be an important resource for border communities (or ‘pass-through’ cities) in which asylum seekers stay for shorter periods of time, it will be inaccessible to ‘destination’ cities like Portland, which provide longer-term support and services,” Snyder wrote.

She said the city’s program has received $1.16 million from FEMA for the program – an amount Geyer said was a one-time allotment. City staff believe the program could continue its most vital work with an annual budget of $700,000.

Since January 2020, the program has helped nearly 1,300 asylum seeking families – or about 4,200 individuals – gain access to health care, food, immigration and legal support, housing placements, and help enrolling children in schools.


“Without this program, and as the steady pace of arrivals continues, traditional health care systems, social services providers, and community programs will be challenged to meet the increase in need,” Snyder wrote.

Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, also wrote to Mayorkas about the issue in September, saying the 45-day limit is “unworkable for destination cities.” That letter, unlike the one sent Thursday, did not ask that the time limit be extended.

City staff organize groups of asylum seekers before moving them from the Portland Expo on to busses that will take them to hotels in Lewiston and Freeport on August 16. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The first tranche of funding for the new program became available this year, but Pingree said in her letter that the program’s requirements were preventing Maine organizations from participating.

“Portland, like many other northern cities, is the last stop for many asylum seekers once they are released from DHS custody,” Pingree wrote in September. “Without secondary placement options, asylum seekers face longer stays in shelters that cannot be supported by SSP because they exceed the 45-day limit.”

Pamela Williams, the assistant administrator of FEMA’s Grant Programs Directorate, responded to Pingree that “while we understand support for these noncitizen migrants may extend beyond this 45-day period, the intent of the SSP funding is to help with immediate needs for temporary shelter and eligible services directly following DHS release.”

“We are most appreciative of your thoughtful feedback and will consider how to incorporate these comments in the future if and when Congress appropriates additional funding to support SSP,” Williams wrote.


The letter sent Thursday includes a more specific request to extend the time limit and is also signed by King, an independent, and Collins, a Republican.


A DHS spokesperson did not respond to an email Thursday asking about the letter, the reason for the 45-day limit and if the department would consider making the change requested.

The city of Portland stopped counting asylum seeker arrivals in June after reaching shelter capacity, a spokesperson said Thursday. At that point, about 1,600 asylum seekers had arrived in the city this year, continuing a steady stream of new arrivals over the last few years.

“It hasn’t been a huge increase, but we are continuing to see folks arrive,” Geyer said Thursday.

“I can’t stress enough the negative impact it has on cities and municipalities away from the border because of the 45-day limit,” Geyer said. “The work that could be done within 180 days, it just can’t be done within the 45-day limit.”

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