The New England states are facing a looming crisis over how to pay for housing for tens of thousands of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers now that federal funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program is drying up.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has asked state lawmakers to approve $130 million in funding that would support existing shelters and pay to construct new housing to accommodate more than 10,000 illegal aliens. Most of them crossed into the U.S. over the southern border illegally, according to the Boston Globe.
In Maine, a state commission has said they want $182 million per year in taxpayer funding to accommodate ERA benefit recipients, an unknown number of which are non-residents currently living in hotels and motels — mostly in southern Maine — with the ERA program picking up the tab.
New Hampshire is also scrambling to find money now that federal funds are gone. According to the New Hampshire Bulletin, some state lawmakers want an emergency $20 million specifically for those living in hotels and motels. The state estimates there are 700 people who would benefit from the funding.
Vermont lawmakers met last week in an attempt to confront the problem. The state has spent $456 million over the last six years on emergency shelter programs, yet homelessness is mysteriously still on the rise. Vermont, unlike other New England states, has finagled $37 million in federal funds that will support emergency housing programs until March.
The U.S. Congress created the ERA program in order to help Americans stay housed when the government lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 undermined their ability to work. Two bills, the first signed by President Donald Trump and the second by President Joe Biden, gave states massive tranches of money to handout to individuals who claimed they were having trouble making rent payments.
More than 30,000 Mainers took advantage of the ERA program from 2021 to 2022, and thousands of individuals are still receiving support or are part of a family unit that is.
The Maine Housing Authority, which administered the program for the state, was able to stretch the federal funding for the program to the end of November, just past the election, but now the crisis is coming to a head as eviction notices begin rolling in to tenants who can no longer make rent.
Maine Housing doesn’t know the immigration status of the more than 400 families living in hotels and motels. The state never attempted to count the number of non-residents benefiting from the program, so state officials have no idea how many illegal aliens and asylum seekers have been receiving housing benefits.
Immigration advocates reported last year that approximately 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Haiti, had arrived in Maine after crossing the southern border.
Trump and Biden’s federal funding bills did not contain any requirement that recipients be legal residents of the U.S. Although some states imposed residency requirements on the program, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts did not.
Maine Housing wasn’t able to say who made the decision in Maine not to impose a citizenship requirement on the program.
The result is that thousands of illegal aliens and asylum seekers, who can’t legally work in the U.S., will end up evicted and potentially homeless — while unable to legally work — in the middle of a New England winter. It’s a crisis that was entirely predictable several months ago, but the state has done little to prepare.
The Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine, a panel comprised of left-wing community organizers and state lawmakers, has told Maine Public that their solution to the problem is a permanent new state welfare program. If that potential welfare program follows the ERA model, there will be no citizenship requirement, meaning Maine taxpayers would be on the hook for some illegal aliens’ and asylum seekers’ rent permanently.
Maine Housing told the state commission that funding the ERA program in the absence of federal support would cost an estimated $182 million per year, though it’s unclear how they arrived at that estimate. Funding that kind of spending was easy in 2020 and 2021 when billions of federal dollars were sloshing around Maine’s coffers. In the absence of such federal largesse, Mills and Democratic lawmakers haven’t hinted at where the money might come from.
During the gubernatorial debates last month, Mills, a Democrat, said Maine needs these asylum seekers to fill job vacancies in the state.
The prospect of free or subsidized housing, in concert with other benefit programs administered by state and local agencies, would create a strong incentive for those who enter the country illegally, legitimate refugees, and those who pose as asylum seekers to head to Maine. But under federal law illegal aliens and asylum seekers are not authorized to work legally in the U.S.
Asylum seekers may only be authorized to work once their asylum requests are approved and they are granted permanent resident status.
However, federal data show that in recent years only 14 percent of asylum applicants have actually been approved.
That raises the question of how Maine will accommodate the other 86 percent who have arrived in Maine, sought housing, enrolled their kids in public schools, and now can’t work legally.
Mills said in the debates that she intended to call on the U.S. Congress and President Biden to change the work rules and allow asylum seekers and some non-residents to work legally in the U.S. — a policy change her opponent former Republican Gov. Paul LePage supported.
There’s no public indication that she has acted on the pledge yet. Any federal change of that magnitude would have to clear the House of Representatives, now under the control of a Republican majority that is hawkish on matters of illegal immigration.