Portland leaders respond to claims of mismanaging General Assistance funds

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – City and state leaders from Portland pushed back Friday against claims by the LePage Administration that the city is in violation of the General Assistance program.

A state audit of the program found that some long time users of the city’s shelter had large sums of money in the bank and are not eligible for assistance. However, the city was billing the state for the residents as if they were eligible for general assistance. It’s the latest chapter in the Governor’s efforts to crack down on welfare abuse. Portland officials call it an attack on their city.

"Is someone really getting away with something by getting this mat to sleep on? How on god’s green earth could offering this meager service be considered too generous," said Mark Swan of Preble Street.

A state audit found some long term shelter users had thousands of dollars in the bank, one as high as $160,000. Advocates for the homeless said those people are likely suffering from mental illness. They said the state’s mental health system has fallen apart, leaving the shelters to take those people in.

"We’re not here because we want to be, we’re here for so many reasons. We don’t want to be here, we just need some help to get out," said shelter visitor Gary Lee.

City and state leaders from Portland did admit that there are some aspects of the audit they find troubling and will address them. They said the earliest Gov. Paul Lepage can meet with them is late March. They don’t want to wait that long, so a city council subcommittee will begin dissecting the audit a week from Tuesday.