A child pushes a stroller at the emergency shelter setup inside the Portland Expo building on June 19, 2019. Hundreds of new asylum seekers, mainly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, started arriving in Portland earlier this month. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Portland officials say they are still waiting to hear from the state about how it might help provide aid to the hundreds of asylum seekers who have arrived in recent weeks.

Specifically, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and others are hoping that the state will relax eligibility rules for General Assistance to help asylum seekers with basic needs, including food and housing. Because many of the recent asylum seekers have yet to be granted “parole” status, they are ineligible for General Assistance under restrictions imposed eight years ago by the LePage administration.

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Strimling says that while the city has raised about $400,000 in donations over the past few weeks, expanding state aid to the asylum seekers would make a big difference.

“That’s obviously huge,” he said. “And that puts us in a much stronger position to be able to stabilize these families and integrate them as quickly as possible. So they can be working, doing everything they want to do.”

Strimling says once the city knows if the state will help, it can plan its own response.

“Once we know what our partner is going to do, then I think we can figure out the best way to utilize those funds.”

[As Portland surges with newcomers, here’s a look at the process of seeking asylum and why it’s different this time]

A spokesperson for the governor’s office says the state Department of Health and Human Services is “closely reviewing the eligibility guidelines,” and the administration continues to talk with the city.

Earlier this year, Democratic Sen. Drew Gattine of Westbrook introduced a bill that would have removed the restrictions, at an estimated cost of about $7 million per year. However, that bill was carried over to the next legislative session.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.