By Rep. Lawrence Lockman
Some days at the Statehouse, I have to shake my head in disbelief at the avalanche of hideous legislation landing on our desks.
One of the worst bills so far this session is a proposal from Rep. Drew Gattine to provide welfare benefits to non-citizens.
Gattine’s bill would give non-citizens free medical care paid for by state and federal taxpayers. The newcomers also would be eligible for food supplement benefits (commonly known as food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Foreigners wouldn’t even have to show that they’re in the country legally, as long as they claim they’re taking “reasonable steps” to apply for legal status, presumably as asylum seekers.
When I first read the bill, I thought, why is Rep. Gattine so callous and uncaring about the plight of low-income elderly Mainers?
If that sounds like a harsh indictment of the Democrat from Westbrook, consider this.
In the past year, nursing homes in Patten, Jonesport, Bar Harbor, Bridgton, West Paris, Freeport, Fryeburg and Greenville have closed their doors, forcing elderly and disabled residents to relocate. The closures were the result of chronic underfunding by the state for more than a decade, beginning with Governor Baldacci’s drastic cuts to Medicaid reimbursements.
The financial and emotional impact of the closures on Maine families has been devastating. One would think this crisis might be one of the Legislature’s top priorities. But it’s not. As chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Gattine seems to be more interested in providing welfare benefits to non-citizens than in putting Mainers first.
LD 1317, “An Act to Restore Services to Help Certain Noncitizens Meet Their Basic Needs,” flew out of the Health and Human Services Committee on a party-line vote last week with a $14 million price tag. At the public hearing, a parade of witnesses from the Nanny State Nonprofit Industrial Complex showed up to press for passage.
One of the nonprofits with its snout in the public trough is the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC). The organization was founded 12 years ago and has now transitioned into, in the words of Executive Director Mufalo Chitam, a “full-fledged, independent, immigrant-led nonprofit organization representing 51-plus member organizations.”
Among the members of MIRC are many of the usual suspects on the far left: Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Equal Justice Partners, Catholic Charities of Maine Resettlement Office, New Mainers’ Political Action Committee, ACLU of Maine and the Somali Bantu Community Center of Maine.
Portland is already teeming with so-called “new Mainers” who illegally crossed the Mexican border and immediately surrendered to border control officers. The border crashers are well aware that U.S. government policy is catch-and-release. And it’s also well known on both sides of the border that Portland has a uniquely generous package of welfare benefits for non-citizens. Shelters in Texas have been sending their overflow to Maine in such large numbers that currently 90 percent of Portland’s homeless shelter residents are so-called “asylum seekers.”
More than half of asylum applications are ultimately denied, but that takes several years, by which time the now-deportable illegal immigrants have blended into the larger “immigrant community.” Does anyone seriously think they’re going to turn themselves in or self-deport?
Welfare for non-citizens has already busted the city budget in Portland, which has the distinction of being Maine’s premier “sanctuary city” — a harboring haven where city employees aren’t allowed to ask anyone about their immigration status. The city manager recently proposed budget cuts that would reduce services and benefits for Portland’s swelling population of non-citizens.
If Gattine’s bill is enacted, Portland will unload those costs on taxpayers across the state. And more of Maine’s most vulnerable nursing home residents will face the emotional trauma of being relocated further away from loved ones, all because a majority of legislators prioritize foreigners over Mainers.
Is this what Maine voters had in mind when they gave Democrats control of the executive and legislative branches of state government last November?
I don’t think so.
Rep. Lawrence Lockman (R-Bradley) is serving his fourth term in the Maine House of Representatives (District 137). He is co-founder and president of the populist/conservative nonprofit Maine First Project. He may be reached at [email protected].