- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Gov. Paul LePage is threatening to withhold all General Assistance funding from cities and towns that provide the money to immigrants who cannot show they are living in the U.S. legally, telling them it reflects the administration’s ongoing effort to “eliminate Maine’s status as a sanctuary state.”

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan called the governor’s threats “reckless” and “political in nature” and said the city will continue providing services while it considers ways to thwart the governor’s actions.

“We can’t decide today or tomorrow to follow the directive and then have hundreds if not thousands of people homeless and without food,” he said. “That’s what makes this so reckless. There’s no planning, no alternative, no provisions for people to the find basic necessities of food and shelter. People don’t just evaporate because the governor is making a political decision.”

LePage told municipal administrators that a 1996 federal welfare reform law prohibits states from offering general assistance to people who cannot prove they are in the U.S. legally unless there is a specific state law allowing it. Maine lacks such a law, he said.

“During my administration, we have worked to eliminate Maine’s status as a sanctuary state,” he wrote in the letter to cities and towns across the state, pointing out that he lifted the previous administration’s order preventing state workers from asking about immigration status and eliminated Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments to some non-citizen residents.

In Portland, about $250,000 in General Assistance from the state is paid out each month to about 250 households - or 600 men, women and children - that fall under the category that the governor wants to strike from ledgers, Brennan said.

According to LePage’s letter, failure to eliminate funding to those welfare recipients would have an even bigger impact, eliminating all state General Assistance funding, which Brennan said amounted to $9 million last year.

Brennan said that until he received the governor’s letter on Tuesday, he had been following guidance from Attorney General Janet Mills, who said the administration’s actions were unconstitutional.

In the short term, the city has no choice but to continue making the General Assistance payments to avoid having families go without food or shelter, Brennan said. The city is also considering legal action, legislative action or both, to nullify the governor’s letter and return to the status quo.

LePage said in his letter that the Maine Legislature has had an opportunity over the years to adopt a law allowing the state to fund the payments even though it runs counter to the federal law.

“The Maine Legislature has had every opportunity in the past 18 years to pass a law mandating that municipalities provide general assistance to illegal aliens. They have chosen not to,” he wrote.

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Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP

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