Maine has many programs to help people who need financial help. Most of these programs are for people with low incomes, although a few serve people with higher incomes as well. These programs are commonly known as "public benefits."
- Impact of Receiving Public Benefits on Immigration Status
- Cash Programs
- Refugee Resettlement Programs
- Health Programs
- Programs for Children
- Food Programs
- Employment-Related Programs
- Housing and Shelter
Impact of Receiving Public Benefits on Immigration Status
If you do not have your "Green Card" (Permanent Residency) yet.
If you do not yet have your green card, you can be turned down for the green card if the government thinks you'll be "likely to need public benefits in the future."
The government can look at many things when it decides this:
- your work history
- your current health
- your age, and
- whether you've ever received any public benefits in the past.
The government can only hold actual cash benefits, paid for your use, against you.
If you have gotten food stamps, or housing subsidies, or medical payments, these are not paid to you in cash. Immigration cannot consider them. If you have received cash benefits, such as TANF or SSI, for a child who was born here and is a U.S. citizen, those benefits cannot be held against you. (Getting TANF benefits for yourself can have a negative affect.) If you have any concerns about this, speak to an experienced immigration advocate. (See "Green Cards" and Other Immigration Documents for a list of immigration law advocates - Resources.)
If you have your green card but you are not a U.S. citizen yet.
Immigration cannot turn you down for citizenship because you are receiving public benefits. But they may ask you questions to make sure you haven't broken any rules. For example, while getting public benefits you may not work without telling your caseworker. You cannot take a trip to visit family outside the U.S. and receive public benefits. You must tell your caseworker so that the benefits stop. It is a good idea to speak with an immigration advocate before you apply for citizenship if you are receiving public benefits. See Resources below.
Federal benefits programs.
Many noncitizens who immigrated to the U.S. or got their "green cards" (permanent residency) after August 22, 1996 are not eligible for Federal public benefits programs. There are exceptions for refugees, asylees, certain parolees, veterans of U.S. military service, and persons who can claim 40 "qualifying quarters" of work. Also, all immigrants, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for:
- Emergency MaineCare (if there is a medical emergency and the person has no other health insurance)
- Women Infants and Children (WIC) benefits (if a woman is low-income and needs help to afford healthy foods during pregnancy or if breastfeeding, or for her children)
- Disaster Assistance (such as after a hurricane or flood)
- Public kindergarten through 12th grade education
- School lunch programs and vaccination programs
Some of these programs are described in more detail later in this section.
State benefits programs.
Most Maine noncitizens who have a green card or refugee or asylee or other permanent status are eligible for these benefits. Also, most people who have a work permit from Immigration, and many people without work permits but who have certain applications filed and in process with Immigration are eligible for these benefits. To find out if you are eligible for state benefits programs, talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in public benefits eligibility. See Resources, below.
Note that even if you are not eligible for a state benefit, but you have children born in the U.S. or who have a different immigration status, you can apply for benefits for the children. You just need to be clear with the benefits case worker that you are not applying for yourself but just for your child. You should not be asked about your own immigration status in that case. For some benefits, you will have to give information about how many people live in your household, and/or how much income each person earns. Then the benefits case worker can tell whether your U.S. citizen child has a low enough income to qualify for the benefit.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
TANF provides a monthly support amount to low-income families with children. Any "relative caretaker" of a child can apply. For State TANF benefits, you must either have a work permit from Immigration or have certain applications filed and in process with Immigration to be eligible. If you are completely undocumented, you probably are not eligible for TANF, unless you are in removal proceedings in the Immigration Court and have applied for permanent status in those proceedings.
The state requires adults who get TANF to participate in ASPIRE. ASPIRE can involve a work activity or job training. You must be able to work legally in the U.S. to take a job through ASPIRE. However, without a work permit, you could participate by volunteering for a non-profit organization ,or doing other approved activities that do not involve paid work. Only a few narrow categories of people are excused from the ASPIRE work requirement.
To apply, contact your local Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) office.
Emergency Assistance (EA) is a TANF-related program. It helps children and their families with some emergencies. For example, EA provides help with:
- emergency housing
- utilities (electricity, gas bottled gas, water or sewer), if you have gotten a cutoff notice
- repairing or replacing such essential items as wells, chimneys, septic systems, furnaces or heating stoves
To get EA, you must have children in the home. You do not have to be on TANF . Your income must be below the poverty level.
To apply, contact your nearest Department of Health and Human Services office.
Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
The federal program provides a small monthly income to poor people who are:
- age 65 or over,
- blind, or
Both children and adults can qualify. A disability must be expected either to last at least 12 months or to result in death. If you don't have some form of permanent immigration status, or 40 qualifying work quarters or veteran status, you very likely will not be eligible for SSI. To apply, contact the Social Security Administration. (See Resources.)
Maine Supplemental Security Income (SuperSupp).
Maine provides a state replacement for immigrants who used to be eligible for Federal SSI but who became ineligible after the 1996 federal “welfare reform” changes. The Maine program is known as “SuperSupp”. You may want to check with an immigration lawyer to find out if, and for how long, you will be able to receive federal SSI, or whether you qualify for Maine’s SuperSupp benefit. Do this before you apply, or if you have any difficulty with your application. See Resources, below.
General Assistance (GA).
All Maine's towns and cities have general assistance programs. The program is designed to provide a "safety net" for Maine residents when a household's income does not cover basic needs, food, shelter, clothing and other personal items.
Each town has local rules setting the income guidelines but many use standards set by the Maine Municipal Association. Compared to other benefit programs, this is the hardest one to qualify for. Your income for the month of application must be very low. Most Maine towns and cities have adopted "workfare" rules. Others have work search requirements.
To apply, go to your city hall or town office. They must act on your application within 24 hours. If you have problems ask for help from the State General Assistance Oversight Office. (See Resources.) at: 1-800-442-6003.
Note that some Maine cities and towns do not ask for immigration status nor require a Social Security number. Others do. You may want to speak with an immigration advocate before applying for GA. See Resources below.
Refugee Resettlement Programs
People who came to the U.S. as refugees or certain parolees (have an "I-94 card" that shows admission to the U.S. as a refugee, or says "paroled" into the U.S.), are eligible for special cash benefits for the first few months in refugee, or parolee status. And they are eligible for other benefits for a longer period of time. Asylees are also eligible for the special cash benefits in the first 8 months after being approved for asylum, as well as for all other benefits available to refugees. (An asylee is not eligible for these benefits while his asylum application is in process.). To learn more about which benefits are available, contact your local refugee resettlement agency. In Maine, most refugees are resettled by Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigrant Services, at 250 Anderson Street , Portland, Maine, 04101, telephone: 207-871-7437. (See Resources)
If you are treated for a medical emergency, Emergency Medicaid can pay for it regardless of your immigration status. Even if you are undocumented (have no legal immigration status) Emergency Medicaid will cover the cost of your emergency medical treatment.
Maine has consolidated most of its low-income health insurance programs (including Medicaid) under the umbrella of MaineCare. MaineCare provides comprehensive health coverage for children and the lowest-income adults. It also provides more limited coverage, such as help with prescription drugs, to people with modest but above-poverty-level incomes. To be eligible for MaineCare, you must either be a U.S. citizen, or a permanent resident, refugee, or asylee, or have certain other statuses that allow you to be in the U.S. permanently. Or you must have a have certain applications filed and in process with Immigration. If you are on a temporary visa to work or study or visit in the U.S., or you have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), you are not eligible for MaineCare. If you are completely undocumented, you probably are not eligible for MaineCare, unless you are in removal proceedings in the Immigration Court and have applied for permanent status in those proceedings. Talk with an immigration lawyer to find out if you have a legal status that qualifies you for MaineCare. See Resources, below.
Assuming that you meet the “status” test above, if you get TANF or SSI, you qualify for MaineCare coverage. Children who live in households with income less than 200% of the poverty level can qualify. Children who live with a "caretaker relative" can qualify without counting the relative's income and assets. Some adults with income below 100% of the poverty level can now qualify, even if they are not disabled and do not have dependant children (but there is usually a waiting list). MaineCare covers many other groups of people with medical needs, such as persons with HIV, breast cancer or cervical cancer. The income and asset rules vary, depending on which the category of coverage you fall into.
Note that U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike must provide proof of their immigration status. Noncitizens must show their immigration documents. U.S. citizens must show their birth certificates indicating birth in the U.S., or U.S. passport or passport card, or U.S. Certificate of Birth abroad. A U.S. citizen who was born in Canada, or in another foreign country, many need an immigration lawyer to help her prove that she is a U.S. citizen. See Resources, below.
If you have no legal status and can't qualify for MaineCare, but you need medical treatment in a hospital and you are low-income and can't afford to pay the bills, hospitals have money available to cover the cost of your care. To get "free care", you have to show that you are low income, and that you are not eligible for MaineCare. Most hospitals will make you go to the nearest DHHS office to apply for MaineCare, so that you can get a letter from MaineCare saying that you are not eligible. Once the hospital has the letter from MaineCare saying that you don't qualify, the hospital can process your medical bills through the free care process.
Programs for Children
Adoption Assistance Foster Care.
The State of Maine offers a number of services for foster children and foster parents. These services range from support groups and training programs to financial assistance (such as clothing allowance and college tuition waivers) and life skills training. (See Resources.)
Child Welfare Services. (See Family Law)
If you need help finding or paying for child-care while you are working or going to school, call the DHHS Office of Head Start and Child Care in Augusta (See Resources) (287-5060) or your county Child Care Resource Development Center.
Food Supplements (formerly "Food Stamps").
This is a debit card you can use to buy food. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) puts money into your Food Supplement account each month. You can use the card to buy food at any participating grocery store. You must either have a work permit from Immigration or have certain applications filed and in process with Immigration to be eligible for State level Food Stamps. If you are completely undocumented, you probably are not eligible for Food Stamps, unless you are in removal proceedings in the Immigration Court and have applied for permanent status in those proceedings. Talk with an immigration lawyer to find out if you have a legal status that qualifies you for Food Supplements. See Resources, below.
If you get TANF (see above), you can also get Food Supplements. Also, many households who don't qualify for TANF can get food supplements. The income and assets tests are less strict than in the TANF program and the TANF "deprivation" rules do not apply. Many low-income households with working parents get food supplements.
To apply, contact your nearest Department of Health and Human Services office.
WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children).
This program is for low-income families and foster children. WIC provides some basic healthy foods for pregnant women, and children under five years of age. They also give nutrition information and referrals to other community resources. WIC is available to all noncitizens, regardless of immigration status. Even persons who have no legal immigration status are eligible.
To find the WIC program nearest you call 1-800-437-9300.
Workforce Investment Act Programs.
These programs' aim is to improve employment, training, literacy, and vocational rehabilitation programs in the U.S.
Available services through the Maine Department of Labor's Bureau of Employment Services include:
- Free consultation
- Free aptitude testing
- On the Job Training (where applicable)
- Other training opportunities
- Possible support services during training such as day care etc.
The Career Center Offices are available for everyone's use. Individualized service may depend up whether you are legally permitted to work in Maine. (See Resources.)
Earned Income Credit (EIC).
At tax time (January 1 - April 15 each year), low-income workers can get a large check back from the federal government by filing a tax return and applying for an "Earned Income Credit." For tax year 2008, the maximum credit for a household with two or more children $4,716. (This amount increases each year.)
Workers can also arrange through their employer to get the tax credit over the course of the year with their paycheck. See “Your Rights and Duties” for more information and warnings about the EIC for immigrants.
Unemployment Insurance. (See Education)
In the United States, workers pay a "social security tax" which is taken out of each paycheck. When you retire after age 60 (or become disabled and unable to work), you can get monthly income from the Social Security system.
To apply, contact your nearest Social Security office. See resources section below.
Housing and Shelter
Rental Housing Programs.
Affordable rental housing is supported by subsidies from several agencies, like HUD (Federal Housing and Urban Development), USDA/REC (formerly FMHA) and the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA). These programs all serve households below a certain income level and monthly rent is capped at a percentage of income (typically about 30%). Most housing programs are available only to persons who have permanent residency (the "green card", refugee, asylee, Cuban-Haitian entrant or parolee status). Often, persons who are not eligible can still live in the home with the eligible family member, but the amount of rent will be higher.
To apply: If you know the programs that serve your area, apply for as many as you like. There are usually waiting lists, so the more waiting lists you're on, the better chance you have of getting in sooner. If you don't know your options, contact MSHA. (See Resources) in Augusta at 1-800-452-4668. MSHA keeps track of all of the programs in the state and can tell you about the programs in your area.
Low-income households can get help once a year, during the winter, with their fuel bills (LIHEAP). The program also provides crisis assistance (ECIP) for heating-related emergencies, weatherization (making a home more suitable for cold weather), and the Central Heating Improvement Program (CHIP).
Different income limits are set each year, depending on the total amount Maine gets from Congress in that year. You can use medical expenses, including insurance premiums and transportation costs, as deductions from income. There is not asset test.
To apply: Contact your county Community Action Program in August or September.
Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project
Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project
309 Cumberland Avenue, Suite 201
PO Box 17917
Portland, Maine 04112
207-780-1593 or 1-800-497-8505
Services are free or low-fee depending on income
Pine Tree Legal Assistance
88 Federal Street
P.O. Box 547
Portland, Maine 04112
Legal Services for the Elderly
9 Green Street
P.O. Box 2723
Augusta, Maine 04338-2723
Maine Lawyer Information and Referral Service
There is a $20 fee for this service
Social Security Administration
550 Forest Ave.
Portland, ME 04101
1 (800) 772-1213
State General Assistance Oversight Office (Ask for Emergency Assistance hotline.)
Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigrant Services
250 Anderson Street
Portland, Maine, 04101
Department of Health and Human Services
Portland office: 161 Marginal Way
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 822-2000 (General line connecting to all programs.)
TTY 1 (800) 822-2293
Department of Health and Human Services (foster care information)
221 State Street
Augusta, Maine 04333
Phone: (207) 287-5060
Fax: (207) 287-5031
TTY: (207) 287-5048
Central DHHS Office (life skills training)
221 State Street, SHS #11
Augusta, Maine 04333-0011
Phone: (207) 287-6259
WIC Program Office
11 State House Station
286 Water St.
Key Plaza, 1st Floor
Maine Department of Labor Bureau of Employment Services
http://www.mainecareercenter.com (Maine Employment Resource Guide)
Maine State Housing Authority
89 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04330
toll free phone: 1-800-452-4668