Governor Mills Urges Federal Government To Provide Financial Support to Maine Municipalities & Organizations Supporting Asylum Seekers

Governor’s letter follows her use of contingency funds to support longer-term housing needs of those in Portland’s emergency shelter

Governor Janet Mills announced today that she has asked the federal government to provide financial support to Maine municipalities and local organizations that are working to support those seeking asylum in Maine.

In her letter, Governor Mills asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to dedicate federal funding to Maine municipalities that have experienced an influx of asylum seekers and to local organizations that are assisting them. The Governor’s request comes after Congress passed, and the President signed into law, emergency legislation that appropriates $30 million for “jurisdictions or local recipient organizations serving communities that have experienced a significant influx” of people. That funding is to be distributed through FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program. 

“The State of Maine, the City of Portland, surrounding municipalities, private businesses, charitable and faith-based organizations, residents, and many others have all stepped up to help meet the most basic needs of those newly-arrived in Maine,” said Governor Mills. “I believe it is time for the federal government to do its part, too. Congress recently appropriated money to help states like Maine that are experiencing an influx of asylum seekers, and I urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see that Maine municipalities and appropriate organizations receive some of that funding sooner rather than later.”

The Governor’s letter urging the federal government to do its part also comes in the wake of her use of one-time contingency funds to support the longer-term housing needs of asylum seekers who are currently residing at the Portland Expo, an emergency shelter established by the City of Portland that will soon cease operating. In a June 28 Financial Order, Governor Mills authorized the transfer of $172,303 in funding from the Governor’s Contingent Account to the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) to provide temporary rental housing assistance to asylum seekers for up to 12 months. 

“Throughout this situation, my Administration has remained in close contact with the City of Portland and has provided short-term assistance and support from emergency cots to medical screenings to vaccinations. It is clear, however, that the greatest area of need is in longer-term housing, particularly with the approaching closure of the emergency shelter,” said Governor Mills. “To help address this need, I have utilized one-time emergency funding available to me as Governor and directed that it be used to support longer-term housing. This funding will not entirely address the situation, but it will complement Portland’s efforts to move people out of the emergency shelter.”

In deploying the funds, MaineHousing is following the example of its successful Stability Through Engagement Program (STEP), which provides individuals and families who are homeless with short-term assistance to help them find stable housing.

“We’re committed to working with the Governor’s office, the City of Portland, and other agencies across Maine to help families move out of the Portland Expo and into more appropriate housing,” said MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan. “This is a great example of how state government, independent agencies like MaineHousing, municipalities and local agencies can work together quickly and efficiently to help people in need.”

In addition to the steps taken today by Governor Mills, the Administration also continues to consult with service providers, housing specialists, educators, faith-based organizations, employers, and public officials to address short-term and long-term challenges as the Maine Department of Health and Human Services coordinates the State’s efforts to connect individuals with medical, legal, educational, English language and housing supports.

The State, through the Maine CDC and with federal funding support, has provided public health nurses and overseen the deployment of trained, credentialed volunteers through the Medical Reserve Corps to serve the basic health needs of those newly-arrived, including vaccinations. The Maine Emergency Management Agency has provided technical support to the shelter and has coordinated volunteer non-profit organizations to help ensure the smooth delivery of services.

Governor Mills also announced this morning in that her Administration is pursuing changes to the eligibility rules for General Assistance to ensure that the program includes people who are intended to receive assistance under the law and, importantly, prepare them to enter the workforce and strengthen Maine’s economy at a time when it is desperately needed.

Read Governor Mills’ letter to FEMA (PDF).