Services - General Assistance

General Assistance is a program administered through municipalities which purchases basic necessities for individuals who are without means to pay for such services. Applications for General Assistance can be made at any local municipal office.

Municipality who is Responsible to Take Applications and Provide Assistance to Applicants

Question: An applicant for general assistance resides at a homeless shelter. The applicant applies for assistance at a municipality in which she has found a new apartment. Prior to entering the shelter the applicant resided in a different municipality. Is the new municipality required to accept the application and provide assistance if the applicant is otherwise eligible?

Answer: Yes. Municipalities shall provide General Assistance to all eligible persons at the expense of that municipality (22 MRSA §4301(1)). A municipality may not deny an applicant general assistance based upon residency. Whether a resident or not, if a person presents himself to make application for assistance, he shall be allowed to apply and if eligible, assistance shall be provided. Maine General Assistance Policy Manual § VI p. 22-23. No municipality may establish a durational residency requirement for General Assistance (22 M.R.S.A. §4307(3)).

Discussion: A municipality shall not move or transport a person into another municipality to avoid responsibility for general assistance support for that person. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4301(1). The penalty for moving or transporting an applicant or recipient to avoid municipal responsibility and for illegally denying an applicant which results in relocation is, in addition to the other penalties provided in this Chapter, to reimburse twice the amount of general assistance to the municipality which provided the assistance to that person (22 M.R.S.A.§ §4307(1)).

A municipality is responsible for the general assistance support of the following individuals:

  1. A. resident of the municipality. For the purposes of this section, a "resident" means a person who is physically present in a municipality with the intention of remaining in that municipality to maintain or establish a home and who has no other residence; and
  2. Eligible persons who apply to the municipality for assistance and who are not residents of that or any other municipality. If a person is not a resident of any municipality, the municipality where that person first applies shall be responsible for support until a new residence is established. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4307(2).

If an applicant is in a shelter, for 6 months or less the municipality of responsibility shall be the municipality where the applicant was a resident immediately prior to entering the shelter. When the applicant leaves an institution, even temporarily, the municipality of responsibility may change.

If there is a question about which municipality is responsible the general assistance administrator should contact the other municipality to determine responsibility. If another municipality is determined to be the municipality of responsibility, the applicant should be provided assistance if the applicant is otherwise eligible without being required to travel to the municipality of responsibility.

If two or more municipalities dispute an applicant's residency and the municipalities are unable to settle the dispute themselves, they may ask the Department of Health and Human Services to resolve the dispute. When a municipality notifies the Department, either in writing or by telephone, that there is a dispute, the Department will render a written decision to resolve the dispute within 30 days. In the interim, the municipality where the applicant has applied shall use its own general assistance ordinance to determine levels of assistance when the person is eligible for assistance (§4307(5)).

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Emergency Application

Question: If an applicant presents with an emergency but her income exceeds the municipality's standard of need, does the municipality need to provide assistance to the applicant?

Answer: Yes, a person who does not have sufficient resources to provide one or more basic necessities in an emergency is eligible for emergency general assistance, even when that applicant has been found ineligible for nonemergency general assistance because the applicant's income exceeds the municipalities standard of need. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4308(2). The only exception to this is when a person who is currently disqualified from general assistance for a violation of section 4315, 4316-A or 4317.

Discussion: A municipality may provide emergency assistance when the municipality determines that an emergency is imminent and that failure to provide assistance may result in undue hardship and unnecessary costs. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4308(2). "Emergency" means any life threatening situation or a situation beyond the control of the individual which, if not alleviated immediately, could reasonably be expected to pose a threat to the health or safety of a person. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4301(4).
In deciding whether a situation qualifies as an emergency, first consider whether the applicant faces a life threatening situation.
If the answer is YES, then the person faces an emergency.
If the answer is NO, then determine the following:
(1) whether the person faces a situation that is beyond his or her control that, if not alleviated immediately, could reasonably be expected to threaten the health or safety of the person; OR
(2) whether failing to assist the person may result in undue hardship or unnecessary cost to the individual or municipality if not resolved immediately.
If the answer is YES to either question (1) or (2) the person faces an emergency.

For repeat applicants only, municipalities may adopt standards to "restrict the disbursement of emergency assistance to alleviate emergency situations to the extent that those situations could not have been averted by the applicant's use of income and resources for basic necessities. The person requesting assistance shall provide evidence of income and resources for the applicable time period." 22 MRSA §4308 (2)(B). The evidence shall be provided to show that the applicant did not have income and resources that he or she could have used to avoid the emergency situation.

A municipality may provide emergency assistance when the municipality determines that an emergency is imminent and that failure to provide assistance may result in undue hardship and unnecessary costs. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4308(2). This means, for example, that if someone has a bit of oil remaining in their oil tank and they know it is imminent that the oil will run out soon, that person may qualify for emergency assistance before the tank is actually empty. By addressing the issue sooner rather than later the person has avoided undue hardship and unnecessary costs. For these reasons, the Department encourages adoption of this "imminent" emergency standard provided in the 2013 MMA Model Ordinance.

Whenever an applicant for general assistance states to the administrator that the applicant is in an emergency situation and requires immediate assistance to meet basic necessities, the administrator shall, pending verification, issue to the applicant either personally or by mail, as soon as possible but in no event later than 24 hours after application, sufficient benefits to provide the basic necessities needed immediately by the applicant, 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4310.
An eligible person in need of emergency assistance may not be required to perform workfare prior to receiving general assistance. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4316-A(2)(D).

Even in emergency situations, however, all persons requesting general assistance must use their income for basic necessities. The income not spent on goods and services that are basic necessities is considered available to the applicant. 22 M.R.S.A.§ § 4315-A.

In addition, an applicant who refuses to utilize potential resources without just cause, after receiving a written 7-day notice, is disqualified from receiving assistance until the applicant has made a good faith effort to secure the resource. An applicant who forfeits receipt of or causes reduction in benefits from another public assistance program because of fraud, misrepresentation or a knowing or intentional violation of program rules or a refusal to comply with program rules without just cause is not eligible to receive general assistance to replace the forfeited assistance for the duration of the forfeiture. 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4317.

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A 3rd Party May Accompany an Applicant in Making a General Assistance Application

Question: Can an applicant for general assistance have a 3rd party accompany her in the application process?

Answer: Yes. There is nothing preventing an applicant from having a 3rd party accompany her when she applies for general assistance. While all information associated with the application for general assistance is considered confidential the applicant has the right to waive this provision and allow specific individuals to have access to this information.

Discussion: Records, papers, files and communications relating to an applicant or recipient made or received by persons charged with responsibility of administering this chapter are confidential and no information relating to a person who is an applicant or recipient may be disclosed to the general public, unless expressly permitted by applicant/ recipient. 22 M.R.S. § 4306 (2007).

Applicants, recipients and their legal representatives have the right to review their case records. No record will be released to a third party, however, unless the administrator receives a consent form signed by the applicant expressly authorizing the release of his or her records to the specified parties. Misuse of any information relating to an applicant or recipient is a punishable offense. MMA Model Ordinance, §3.1.

The Address Confidentiality Program (ACP), administered by the Secretary of State, provides address confidentiality for victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault and requires state and local agencies and the courts to accept a designated address as the program participant's address when creating a public record. When an applicant or recipient verifies that they are a certified participant in the Address Confidentiality Program, the designated address is the only address accepted and provided. Any correspondence with the applicant or recipient is sent to the designated address. If the municipality releases information by permission from the applicant or recipient or due to a subpoena, the only address to be provided is the designated address. Maine General Assistance Policy Manual, p. 12a.

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Eligibility for Individuals Under 25

Question: I went into my municipality to apply for General Assistance and was told I was not eligible to apply because I am under 25. I was told that my parents are responsible for me. Was the general assistance administrator correct in refusing to take my application.

Answer: No, the municipality has to take an application. If you are under 25 you may be required to provide the general assistance administrator with contact information for your parents and the municipality may take into account your parent's income in determining your eligibility for general assistance in certain circumstances.

  1. In no event should a parent or spouse be contacted if the separation involves any type of documented abuse. This includes physical, mental, or emotional abuse.
  2. If your parents do not have the ability to support you their income can not be used in determining your eligibility for general assistance. In determining whether your parents have the ability to support you the general assistance administrator should use your parent's actual expenses and not the general assistance maximums.
  3. If your parents do not live in the State of Maine their income can not be used in determining your eligibility for general assistance.
  4. If your parents have ability to support you but are not willing to support you your parent's income not be used in determining your eligibility for general assistance. The municipality may, however bill your parents for any general assistance that you do receive.
  5. If your parents are living in State and have the ability to support you and are willing to do so, their income can be used in determining your eligibility for general assistance.

Discussion: 22MRSA§4319 states: "A parent of a child under 25 years of age and a spouse living or owning property in Maine shall support their children or husband or wife in proportion to their respective ability." Department of Health and Human Services policy states: "In no event should a parent or spouse be contacted if the separation involves any type of documented abuse-physical, mental, or emotional. Documentation may be supplied by Department of Health and Human Services, police, or counselors, etc. Sometimes the abuse is evident to the administrator through apparent bruises or knowledge of the applicant's family history."

When a person under 25 applies for General Assistance independently from his/her parents, the General Assistance administrator needs to inform the applicant that parents are legally liable and that the municipality can seek recovery if assistance is given. The applicant may choose to withdraw the application. If the applicant chooses to continue with the application and there is a reason not to contact the parents or the applicant provides information that contacting the parents would put the applicant in jeopardy, the administrator should not contact the parents.

The applicant needs to provide the administrator with the information that will help the administrator contact the parents (ex. their names, addresses, and telephone numbers). If the applicant fails to provide the information, the case can be denied for lack of information.

If the applicant provides the information, the administrator can contact the parents to determine if the parents are able to assist. If the applicant applies for rent, and the parents say the applicant can come home, the administrator can deny the assistance because the applicant's basic needs will be met by the legally liable relative.

If the parent doesn't volunteer to provide the applicant's needs, the General Assistance administrator should ask for income information that will help the administrator to determine if the parents are financially capable of repaying the municipality for any assistance given. The administrator cannot deny the applicant solely because the parent refuses to provide the information. Assistance should be granted and then the parents should be billed for the assistance given.

When determining the parents' ability to pay, use the parents' actual expenses not the General Assistance maximums. If the parent refuses to reimburse the municipality, the municipality can try to recover the money through small claims court. Remember that the municipality can only recover assistance paid out in the last 12 months.

The fact that an applicant is an emancipated teenager does not mean that this section of the statute doesn't apply. In order to become emancipated the teenager has to prove to the court that he/she is able to support him/herself. When the teenager comes into the General Assistance office, the application should be processed the same way any application of a person under 25 would be processed.

The 2 things to remember with applicants under 25 are: 1) Are the parents willing and able to provide for the child's basic needs? If they are and there is no reason to suspect abuse, deny the application. 2) If the parent can't provide for the basic needs (such as not having space in the home), then assist the child and determine if the parents are financially capable of paying the expense. If the parents are financially able to assist, the municipality can bill them.

There is another section of policy 22MRSA§4309(4) that deals with minors applying for General Assistance. If an applicant under 18 who has a dependent child or is pregnant and has never been married; applies for GA, the applicant has to be residing with a parent, a relative, a foster home, a maternity home, or other adult-supervised living arrangement. The only times you don't require this living arrangement is when:

  1. the applicant has no living parents or doesn't know where they are,
  2. the parents won't permit them to live there,
  3. the Department determines the applicant or dependent child would not be safe with the parent,
  4. the applicant wasn't living with the parents for at least a year before the birth of the child, or
  5. the Department determines there is other good cause to waive this requirement.

This is similar to a TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) requirement. The TANF requirement also requires that the minor receives the TANF benefit in the form of vendor payments. Any access after the vendor payment needs to go to a third party payee. General Assistance uses the gross TANF in the budget, uses the applicant's expenses, doesn't count the balance of the TANF benefit that goes to the payee as income to the payee if the payee applies for General Assistance, and requires that repeat applicants show receipts for how the balance was spent.

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Applicant Eligibility for Prescriptions Medications

Question: I have a client in the office who needs 3 prescriptions. Can I help her?

Answer: Prescriptions are a basic necessity and the applicant is eligible to receive general assistance to pay for prescriptions if the applicant is otherwise eligible to receive general assistance. The municipality can require the applicant to make use of a local free clinic if available. The municipality may also require the applicant to apply for other available resources, such as MaineCare, in order for the applicant to maintain her eligibility for general assistance. An application for prescriptions or other medical care may not be denied pending approval of an application for MaineCare benefits.

Discussion: 22MRSA§4301(1) defines basic necessities. Non-elective medical services as recommended by a physician are basic necessities. Non-elective prescriptions prescribed by the applicant's physician would be a basic necessity.

The applicant would need to complete a General Assistance application and be determined eligible for assistance. The assistance could be granted either because the applicant is eligible under regular General Assistance or because there is an emergency. Applicants with MaineCare are required to use their MaineCare to obtain prescriptions that are needed. If MaineCare requires that the medication be prior approved or that the applicant use a generic brand, the applicant needs to follow the MaineCare requirements.

General Assistance does not pay MaineCare co-payments. The pharmacy cannot refuse to fill the prescription just because the client can't pay the co-payment. General Assistance can pay the co-payment for MaineCare's Limited Benefit Program and for private health insurances because the pharmacy can refuse to fill the prescription in these plans if the co-payment is not paid.

22MRSA§4317 deals with potential resources. An applicant must make a good faith effort to secure any potential resource. Assistance may not be withheld pending receipt of such resource as long as applicant is making a good faith effort to secure the resource.
If an applicant applies for General Assistance for assistance with a prescription and is eligible for assistance, the General Assistance administrator should grant the assistance and require in writing that the applicant apply for MaineCare. The administrator does not need to grant 30 days worth of the medication. The administrator can grant 7 days worth and require in writing that the applicant apply for MaineCare. If the applicant comes back in and has not applied for MaineCare, the administrator can deny the assistance until the applicant applies. If the applicant has applied but the eligibility has not been determined or it has been denied, the administrator can give further assistance.

Section 2.2 of the Maine Municipal Model Ordinance defines resources. An available resource also includes the services, commodities, or facilities made available by private organizations that are available and offered at no cost to the applicant and deemed necessary by a physician, psychologist, or other professional retraining or rehabilitation specialist. There are free clinics in some areas of the state that will see clients at no cost and provide the medication that is needed. Provided that it is not an unreasonable step for the applicant to go to the free clinic to receive services, the administrator can refer the applicant to the clinic. The administrator needs to determine that the clinic is open and able to see the applicant before the applicant is sent. If the clinic is not open and the applicant is otherwise eligible for General Assistance, the applicant should be granted assistance for the number of days until the clinic is opened.

General Assistance pays the MaineCare rate for prescriptions. Each municipality has a 3-digit number that Gould Health Services uses to determine which town receives a printout with the MaineCare price. The General Assistance administrator puts the 3-digit number on the voucher and gives the voucher to the applicant to take to the pharmacy. The pharmacy enters the 3-digit number into the computer. The applicant is given the medication. The pharmacy bills the municipality. Once the municipality receives the printout with the MaineCare rate the pharmacy is paid.

General Assistance can require that an application make a good faith effort to find any other resources that might be available, such as the drug company that manufactures the drug. The municipality would need to assist while the applicant applies for the other resources.

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Initial Versus Repeat Applications

Question: I have an applicant in the office who has never applied for assistance in this municipality, but received General Assistance from another municipality three months ago. Do I treat this as an initial or repeat application?

Answer: This is a repeat application

Discussion: As provided for under the laws guiding the administration of the General Assistance (GA) program (Title 22, Section 4308), initial applicants are defined as persons who have not applied for assistance in any municipality. Municipalities that have adopted the 2013 MMA Model Ordinance (P.55) may treat an applicant who has not applied for general assistance within the last year as an initial applicant. The Department encourages adoption of this standard. Unless this ordinance is in effect, repeat applicants are defined as persons who have at some point in the past applied for assistance in any municipality in Maine. Therefore, your applicant is a "repeat" applicant.

The law makes a distinction between the two types of applicants to provide initial applicants (i.e., those that have never applied for assistance in any Maine community) with an opportunity to become familiar with the General Assistance rules, such as the responsibility to diligently look for work and to keep an accurate accounting of how revenues were spent in the previous 30-day period.

Generally, assistance must be provided to initial applicants on the basis of need. As defined in Title 22, Section 4301, subsection 10, "need" is "the condition whereby a person's income, money, property, credit, assets or other resources available to provide basic necessities for the applicant or the applicant's family are less than the maximum levels of assistance established by the municipality." In a nutshell, "need" is calculated by comparing the applicant's available resources to the amount of assistance a municipality can provide to the household. If the maximum level of assistance is larger than available resources, the municipality can provide assistance to the applicant to fund the shortfall (i.e., the difference between available resources and maximum level of assistance).

The initial applicant may also be eligible to receive assistance that exceeds the standard of need in emergency situations even if the initial applicant may have failed to keep an accurate accounting of how revenues were spent in the previous 30-day period or spent his or her money on non-necessities during the period of time during which the emergency arose. That being said, assistance to even an initial applicant can be denied if the applicant falsifies his or her application or has recently quit a job without good reason or has been discharged from employment due to misconduct. Even first time applicants who quit their jobs without cause are ineligible for assistance for a period of 120 days from the date they quit their job.

As stated above, since repeat applicants are generally familiar with the rules and regulations, these applicants are held to higher standards. Assistance must be provided to repeat applicants on the basis of need, provided the applicant has not falsified information, has complied with the use of income requirements, has completed all work requirements, including not quitting or getting fired from employment due to misconduct, and has complied with all potential resources requirements.

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Burials / Cremations

Question: The local funeral director has informed me that an indigent person has died and believes that the family of the deceased is unable to pay for the burial expenses. I have never done a burial. What do I do now?

Answer: The General Assistance administrator is responsible for filling-out an application essentially on behalf of the deceased to determine the municipality's share (if any) of the burial expenses (Title 22, section 4313, subsection 2). The difference in the application procedure is that the administrator must also take into consideration the ability of qualifying relatives who can contribute to the cost of the burial.

Discussion: Municipalities are responsible for paying the direct burial or cremation expenses, up to the ordinance maximums, of anyone who dies leaving no money or assets to pay the burial or cremation expenses and who does not have a liable relative who is financially able to pay the burial or cremation costs. Relatives who are liable for the burial or cremation costs are parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren. (Please note that due to a 2007 change in the law, (PL 2007, c. 411); siblings are no longer responsible for the cost of a burial or cremation.)

State law requires the funeral director to notify the General Assistance administrator prior to the burial or cremation or within 3 business days following the funeral director's receipt of the body, whichever is earlier. When first contacted by the funeral director, the administrator should inform the funeral director of the maximum amount the municipality can authorize for the burial or cremation expense. The administrator should also explain that if relatives, third parties or other programs or resources (e.g., veterans' or Social Security burial benefits, insurance polices, property, or residual assets, etc.) are available, the municipality will reduce its financial obligation.

The municipal obligation to financially assist with the burial or cremation of an indigent person is the difference between the ordinance maximum for the burial or cremation and the financial resources that exist for that purpose, which include: 1) the estate of the deceased; 2) the financial capacity of legally liable relatives; 3) any available burial benefits; and 4) any actual financial contribution from any other source, such as friends, community collection, church group donations, etc.

With regard to the financial capacity of legally liable relatives, it should be emphasized that the test to be applied is one of capacity to contribute financially and not the willingness to do so. If the administrator is able to identify liable family members who have sufficient income to pay for the burial or cremation, the request for burial or cremation assistance can be denied.

For more information on burials and cremations, please see the Maine Municipal Association's (MMA) General Assistance Manual. The manual is available on-line in the "members only" section of MMA's website at: External site disclaimer.

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Question: I have a client who has applied for General Assistance. He has been living with his girlfriend and has just lost his job. He does not want me to consider his girlfriend as part of the household. How do I determine if they are pooling incomes?

Answer: There is a presumption that persons sharing the same dwelling unit are pooling their income. The burden is on the applicant to rebut this presumption. If the applicant rebuts the presumption then the applicant's eligibility is determined by comparing the applicant's actual income and expenses up to the pro-rated general assistance maximum for each basic necessity. Evidence that roommates are not pooling their income may include statements made by the applicant, rent receipts, demonstrating a divided or prorated obligation, etc.

Discussion: As defined in state statute (Title 22, section 4301, subsection 12-A) the pooling of income "is the financial relationship among household members who are not legally liable for mutual support in which there occurs any commingling of funds or sharing of income or expenses. Municipalities may by ordinance establish as a rebuttable presumption that persons sharing the same dwelling unit are pooling their income. Applicants who are requesting that the determination of eligibility be calculated as though one or more household members are not pooling their incomes have the burden of rebutting the presumption of pooling income".

In other words, unless the applicant proves otherwise and if the municipality's General Assistance ordinance includes a provision that assumes persons living together are sharing resources, the incomes of all persons living in the household must be considered when determining if the applicant is eligible for assistance. As provided in the law, it is incumbent on the applicant, and not the General Assistance administrator, to prove that persons living together are not pooling their incomes.

By ordinance, the municipality can assume that incomes are pooled and provide guidelines whereby an applicant can illustrate that household incomes are not being pooled. If an applicant wants to rebut the presumption of pooling, the applicant should provide documents, such as receipts, banking records and landlord agreements that clearly show that the applicant had been and is currently solely and entirely responsible for his share of household expenses.

Other circumstances to review when evaluating whether the household is pooling income include the nature of the relationship between the roommates. Are the roommates related? Do they share property or bank accounts? Does the municipality have any compelling evidence to assert the existence of a close personal relationship? These are findings that can be relied on to reject an attempt by an applicant to rebut the presumption of pooling.

For more information on the pooling of income, please see the Maine Municipal Association's (MMA) General Assistance Manual. The manual is available on-line in the "members only" section of MMA's website at: External site disclaimer.

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