Local government leaders urge states to increase general aid reimbursements

Leaders from several of Maine’s largest cities appeared before lawmakers on Friday to raise reimbursement rates for general aid, urging the state to pay more.

The program, which provides basic necessities such as housing and food to those in need, has seen a dramatic increase in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rising homelessness rates. State officials acknowledge that change is necessary, so lawmakers are considering several suggestions to improve the program and how it works.

Local government leaders told parliamentary joint standing committees on health and welfare that more state support is needed.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said, “Many local governments are struggling to meet the needs of their residents due to lack of resources, including poor reimbursement rates from the state and a significant increase in demand for emergency shelters. doing.

Portland Democratic Rep. Michael Brennan supports a bill that would increase the reimbursement rate from 70% to 90% for municipalities whose general aid spending reaches a certain threshold (0.008% of asset value). increase. The bill will also create a task force to consider long-term issues and align housing subsidy rates with Article VIII guidelines.

Brennan said his proposal reflected the 90% refunds the state had in place prior to 2015, likely at the state’s largest service centers, including Portland, Lewiston and Bangor. We estimate that 15 communities will be covered from

Bill LD 1675 garnered support from supporters working with homeless people and those using general assistance, but local government leaders were mostly led by Senator Marianne Moore (R-Washington). Supports another bill from LD 1664 to increase reimbursements. Up to 90% for all municipalities, not just those that reach a certain spending amount.

“As you know, General Assistance provides a lifeline to many people in dire financial straits,” said the state’s 10 largest communities.

Sheline said increasing the reimbursement rate would ease pressure on local government budgets. Many communities are making final adjustments to keep tax increases low. “LD 1664 has helped us tremendously and will continue to provide important support to those who really need it,” he said.

South Portland Mayor Scott Morelli and Snyder also testified in support of the bill. “The city is providing strong and unconditional support for this measure,” said Snyder, noting that demand for general assistance has increased significantly in Portland in recent years, currently serving about 3,800 people. I added that I support you.

Portland has spent about $26.5 million in general aid this fiscal year so far, and the interim mayor has proposed $22.6 million for the upcoming budget.

Maine Representative Rachel Talbot Ross, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the need is not limited to Portland.

“The sharp increase in general assistance spending is a symptom of other problems, such as housing shortages for so many Maine people,” said Talbot Ross. We are taking meaningful steps, but I think the financial impact, as reflected in higher GA costs, underscores the urgency that this must be addressed.”

long term trend

Friday’s hearings focused on a series of bills related to public assistance. His two other bills would raise the reimbursement rate to his 90% but would require other changes from the Department of Health and Human Services.

General assistance spending has surged significantly in recent years, from a statewide total of $12.7 million in 2019 to $37 million in 2022. Of that, the state paid her $25.9 million.

The Department of Health and Human Services told the commission on Friday that the GA program is important but unsustainable because it is currently structured.

But the agency also expressed concern about some of the various bills, including proposed changes to eligibility rules, which it said could be an administrative burden. It is also estimated that increasing reimbursement rates would increase state obligations by at least $12 million annually.

Last year’s state budget included an additional $10 million to help local governments with the additional costs of GA. The governor will include an additional $7.5 million in his proposed 2024-25 budget, plus he will pay his We included $3 million.

DHHS said the one-time offer was strategic. This is because it gives the state time to assess trends and develop long-term reforms.

Proposed GA limits

Friday’s committee also considered a list of five bills from Senator Eric Blakey, R-Androscoggin. He said it aims to ensure that limited resources are used for their intended purpose and that there is accountability to minimize abuse of the program.

Two of his bills establish new residency requirements for people to access general assistance, and another bill, LD 182, increases general assistance benefits for “able-bodied” adults with no dependents by 9%. Set monthly limits.

“What I try to ensure is that we pay for the system and prioritize the benefits for residents who are going through hard times and need help. Not creating an incentive structure is a burden to our GA program,” Blakey said.

No one testified Friday in favor of the bills, but three testified against them.

Mufalo Chitham, executive director of the Maine Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said the bill appears to be aimed at immigrants and newcomers to Maine, and seeks to address problems that are the result of flaws in the national immigration system. He said it was misplaced in some respects.

“This is a national crisis and as leaders and legislators we need to create legislation that reflects the times we are in,” Chitham said. “These laws are not responsive to the times we are in. Disadvantage groups that have not chosen to be in this situation, or even the state. is very much aimed at.”

The bill is expected to be sent to the Commission’s previous working session, but no date has yet been set.

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