The Portland City Council unanimously approved an order Monday accepting a $364,000 grant from the Maine State Housing Authority (MaineHousing) to extend the city’s migrant Resettlement Program for 12 months.
According to the order memorandum, since January 2020 the city’s Resettlement Program has assisted an estimated 4,200 migrants.
Services provided under the program are aimed at helping the asylum-seeking migrants “achieve self-sufficiency” by connecting them with housing resources, assisting with their applications for benefits, and providing casework assistance.
Portland’s Resettlement Program in the past was funded in large part by a program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Shelter and Services Program (SSP).
However, that FEMA program was replaced in December 2023 by one that limits funding for services provided to noncitizen migrants to within 45 days of their arrival in the U.S.
In December, U.S. Senators from Maine Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I), alongside District 1 Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D,) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting that the SSP’s 45-day limit be increased to 180 days.
King, Collins and Pingree wrote that the 45-day limitation is “inappropriate for migrant destination locations like Maine.”
“Maine immigrant services groups struggle with the 45-day limitation because migrants arriving in the state have typically been released from DHS custody many days prior, reducing the period in which these individuals and families may receive support,” they wrote.
The city memorandum states that the $364,000 grant from MaineHousing, combined with city funds, will allow the Resettlement Program to be extended for one year.
City Manager Danielle West said the MaineHousing funds will go towards hiring six staff for the Resettlement Program to assist in asylum seeker casework.
Charles Mugabe, Director of Migration at Catholic Charities of Maine, spoke in favor of the order during public comment.
“We want to express our sincere appreciation for the outstanding efforts of the city, of [the] Portland resettlement team, in providing crucial assistant to asylum-seeking families transitioning to Portland and beyond,” Mugabe told the City Council.
“The work of the Portland resettlement team exemplifies the city’s value of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, and contributes to the fabric of a vibrant community,” Mugabe said.
Catholic Charities of Maine is one of three refugee resettlement agencies in Maine, and since 2022 has expanded their resettlement work to asylum-seeking migrants.
District 4 City Councilor Anna Bullett spoke in favor of the motion to pass the order, emphasizing that “this is the State of Maine and the City of Portland making up for a federal failure,” referring to FEMA’s 45-day limit on funds.
“I think that as the oldest state in the country, it’s really important that we continue to have immigrants joining our community and making it the vibrant, wonderful place that it is,” Bullett said.
Councilor At-Large Pious Ali also spoke in favor of the motion, saying that he hopes the Senate border security and foreign aid package passes, due to its provisions granting asylum-seeking migrants immediate work authorization upon their release from custody.
Following discussion, the City Council voted 9-0 to pass the order as an emergency.