Midcoast residents who find themselves in need this winter could have very different experiences as they seek aid, depending on which town they live in.

General assistance programs help people in emergencies, in some cases even if they work or receive other benefits such as food stamps, veterans benefits or Social Security income.

Funds are administered by the municipalities. Applications must be accepted for review, and may be rejected for help if an applicant does not meet the guidelines for the program. Applications are private and confidential. All Maine towns are eligible for a 50 percent state reimbursement for general assistance funds they distribute, but the amount each town elects to use varies.

South Thomaston Town Clerk Barbara Black said the Department of Health and Human Services provides income and assistance guidelines to the towns. “It doesn’t pay a lot,” she said. “It’s basically for emergencies.” Black said additional money is available in some cases for emergency situations when people have exceeded the DHHS guidelines.

South Thomaston budgeted $2,500 for general assistance last year and paid out $1,344, she said. Of the 11 requests Black received, she was able meet the needs of four applicants.

“Some people don’t qualify because they are over on income,” Black said.

South Thomaston does not have any other source for helping those experiencing a financial emergency. Black said the town uses trust funds to provide scholarships and other educational assistance.

Camden relies totally on town funds to help the needy. In 2007 the Select Board voted to discontinue requests for general assistance reimbursements from the state.

“It is hoped that the small amount of funds not requested by the town of Camden will be used to assist other communities with a greater need,” the town’s general assistance administrator, Janice Esancy, wrote in an e-mail message.

Camden still uses DHHS guidelines in distributing funds from various trusts, amounting to approximately $5,000 annually in recent years. Decisions are made by a Trust Fund Committee, comprising two Select Board members, Town Manager Roberta Smith and Finance Director Carol Sue Greenleaf.

Warren also has trust funds to assist the needy, and Town Manager Grant Watmough estimated the current year’s expenditure at between $5,000 and $6,000. In addition, Warren budgeted $18,000 for general assistance in 2009, but Watmough said that amount included the 50 percent state reimbursement. He said the 2010 budget would call for the same amount.

He said Warren’s trust funds lost more than $700,000 in value when the stock market fell last year, but he declined to estimate the current value of the funds or the interest available to be used to help the needy.

“I’m being vague on purpose,” Watmough said. “If you tell people you’ve got ‘X’ amount of dollars available, you’ll have a line out the door.”

Lincolnville Finance Director Jodi Hanson also serves as welfare director for the town. She said Lincolnville spends around $13,000 a year on general assistance.

The Alton French Trust Fund also serves what its trust documents refer to as “the industrious poor” in Lincolnville, and Hanson said about $1,600 has been used since July 2009 to help those who don’t meet the DHHS guidelines for general assistance.

Lincolnville’s trust funds are administered by the Maine Community Foundation, and Hanson said the interest allotment available to the town, between $3,500 and $4,500 a year, didn’t fluctuate significantly when the stock market dropped.

Lincolnville also receives annual contributions from individuals and organizations such as West Bay Rotary to help people in need. Hanson said she works closely with the Rev. Susan Stonestreet of the United Christian Church. Stonestreet administers the Good Neighbor Fund to provide donated money to help the needy.

Like others contacted for this story, Hanson said she has requested waivers from DHHS to allow reimbursement for assistance to those whose need or income falls outside of the guidelines.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had DHHS not reimburse me,” she said. General assistance and highway emergency funds are the two budget lines that state law allows towns to exceed.

 

 

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