PORTLAND, Maine — Governor Janet Mills is making good on a promise she made a few weeks ago.
On Thursday Mills announced she is taking steps that will allow asylum seekers to receive general assistance funds.
The move reverses a LePage administration policy and was made in response to the recent influx of asylum seekers who have come to Maine.
Over the last month and a half more than 350 asylum seekers have come to Portland.
Many have been staying at the Expo, while city and state officials figure out how best to help them during the six month period where federal law prohibits them from working.
Governor Mills has unveiled a plan to help, by giving asylum seekers a pathway to financial freedom.
"It provides basic essential assistance for people who have nowhere to turn."
By relaxing restrictions on general assistance, more asylum seekers will qualify for welfare benefits. Food, housing and medication for non-citizens that can prove they're taking steps to apply for asylum with federal officials.
Mills says this change will help Maine's businesses.
"These people are eager and want to work and the point is we need them, we need the workforce."
Portland City Manager Jon Jennings couldn't agree more.
"These are folks that are going to be major contributors to our economy and society going forward" Jennings says.
Jennings understands not everyone will be happy about this new policy.
"I know there will be people who are not happy that assistance is being provided to these families but this is what we do, this is what this country does in times like this."
Governor Mills says her administration has been doing an awful lot for people with different needs.
Pointing to a stack of papers she said "these are all bills we've signed into law in recent weeks, plus a budget of almost 8 billion dollars, which includes property tax relief for seniors, for veterans and bills to support senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Mill's new policy will help ease the financial burden for Portland and any other municipality helping to support asylum seekers.
"The rule change is a game changer, frankly, that allows the asylum seekers to move throughout the state and make contributions in other parts of the state."
The timing of the rule change is critical given the asylum seekers in Portland must vacate the Expo by August 15th.
"We are here doing, trying everything because we don't want to move people back to the Salvation Army. We don't want to move people to mats and have to exit at 7am."
The city of Portland has placed 7 families in Brunswick and a few more in Bath.
Jennings says they're desperately hoping this new rule change will make other communities more willing to put out the welcome mat.