PoliZette

Maine Rocked by Refugees

Immigrants immediately eligible for welfare, displacing seniors and the needy

Maine’s Somali community is adding more diversity to the state — and huge new costs, according to a top state official.

Maine’s huge number of refugees and asylum-seekers are heavy welfare users and are putting significant economic strain on the state, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Speaking on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” Mayhew  rejected an argument by a local media outlet that the state’s Somali community could be Maine’s savior.

“Overall, we have seen an increased burden to the infrastructure and the welfare programs in the face of other significant competing priorities for this state, especially related to our rapidly aging population, our elderly,” she said.

Maine has been a popular destination for refugees in recent years, mostly from Somalia and other African countries. Lewiston and Portland have taken the most, with Lewiston’s mayor recently speaking out about the fiscal impact on his city.

Refugees, unlike other immigrants, are immediately eligible for government-assistance programs.

Refugees, unlike other immigrants, are immediately eligible for government-assistance programs. According to a recent study by the Center for Immigration Services, refugees from impoverished countries use those programs at high rates.

Mayhew said the refugees cost the state and local governments a great deal of money.

“It is a significant issue,” she said. “It has become a pathway to coming into this state and immediately learning what programs to apply for, how to apply for these programs.”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has led a drive to reform social welfare programs for refugees and citizens alike. Since taking office, food stamp use is down by 58,000 people. Fewer people are on Medicaid, as well, Mayhew said.

“We have truly changed what constitutes success,” she said. “We’re no longer defining success in this state by the number of people coming on to these welfare programs, but rather by the number of people coming off these programs.”

Mayhew noted that a new work requirement for food stamps for able-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 49 with no children — which included an option of volunteering just one hour a day — knocked many off the program for failure to comply.

“I’m so saddened by how far we’ve come where people believe that the answer is more government and more dependency,” she said.

“I’m so saddened by how far we’ve come where people believe that the answer is more government and more dependency,” she said.

Mayhew said LePage has fought against granting welfare benefits to illegal immigrants who have applied for asylum.

“This state has been bouncing along the bottom for years,” she said. “Our challenges economically have been affecting the state, and what is so sad and frustrating is no one is connecting the dots.”

Mayhew said U.S. citizens in Maine can drive economic revitalization.

“We’ve created this problem,” she said. “We disincentivized work and a job.”

The impact of refugees under the existing program levels would surely increase with the addition of Syrian refugees under President Obama’s current plan. The president has called for 10,000 Syrians to be taken in immediately, and the president, and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton have entertained proposals to ultimately take in as many as 65,000 to 100,000.

The nation currently takes in 75,000 refugees from around the world, but notably Somalia, each year.

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PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected].