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Pingree Statement on Governor Mills’ Decision to Make GA Funds Available to Prospective Asylum Seekers

Washington, July 18, 2019

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) released the following statement in response to Governor Mills’ announcement that the state will allow an influx of prospective asylum seekers who’ve come to Portland to apply for General Assistance (GA):

“Governor Mills’ decision to expand general assistance funds statewide is pragmatic and a reflection of Maine’s values. She has shown tremendous leadership in the face of this humanitarian crisis—as have City of Portland officials and Mainers themselves. When hundreds of people fleeing conflict arrived in Portland, the community responded by opening their doors and donating thousands of dollars to support their needs.

“With the oldest workforce in the nation and record low unemployment, Maine cannot afford to turn away people who want to make a fresh start here. In the short-term, asylum seekers need the state’s support while they put down roots and wait for their work permitting to be approved. Right now, I am working at the federal level to shorten the waiting time for asylum seekers to work. The 180-day waiting period is arbitrary, unnecessary, and based on a law written two decades ago. It’s beyond time that we amend it to meet the challenges of 2019.”

BACKGROUND:

In Congress, Pingree recently re-introduced a work authorization bill to allow asylum seekers to work earlier. The Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act would reduce the current 180 day waiting period for work authorization to 30 days. Thus, an asylum seeker could apply for authorization as soon as the asylum claim is filed. The bill makes no changes to law or regulation relating to the asylum process. This arbitrary waiting period of 180 days denies Maine businesses access to an able-bodied workforce at a time when they desperately need employees. This could have an impact on these new asylum seekers—allowing them to work and be self-sufficient through the process of establishing roots in this community.

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