AUGUSTA -- Legislative leaders on Thursday voted unanimously to provide funding from the Legislature’s operating budget to help victims of the Lewiston fire during an emergency meeting of the Legislature’s governing body.
The vote came after Governor Paul LePage refused to release funds from his contingency account. Maine statute Title V, subsection 1507 allows the Governor of the State of Maine to allocate $350,000 for purposes including emergency use. The Legislature makes these funds available each year and further allows the Governor to allocate up to $750,000 in consultation with the state budget officer.
“We felt it was important to take this unprecedented step to support the people of Lewiston during this devastating emergency,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick, who chairs the Legislative Council, made up of 10 Democrats and Republicans.
The Council voted to direct $30,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services to provide to the city of Lewiston with funds for housing vouchers for fire victims. Lewiston lawmakers brought the specific dollar request forward from city officials.
"This is an enormous tragedy. There are more than 200 people who lost their home. Their belongings were destroyed—and their security shattered. Their lives are in limbo without the basic things we all take for granted each and every day," said Senate President Justin Alfond. "If the Governor feels he is unable to take action right now, the legislature will. There is an immediate need to help the people of our state.”
Legislative leaders also directed the city of Lewiston to provide an accounting of the funds.
On Monday, Senator Margaret Craven, Rep. Peggy Rotundo, Rep. Nate Libby, Rep. Wayne Werts and Rep. Mike Carey urged the Governor to use his contingency fund to help their community.
“The Lewiston legislative delegation is grateful to the Legislature for supporting our community when we needed it most,” said Rotundo. “The Legislature took swift action in the absence of the Governor using his authority and contingency funds to address the crisis our community is facing.”
Senator Margaret Craven, who first introduced the request said the funds are critical.
“People are eager to get their lives back. At this point, they've lost everything. They have nothing," said Craven. "This is a tragedy beyond words and it is our obligation to help people when they are their most vulnerable. At this time of great need, we must all unite and lend a helping hand to our neighbors."
The Governor has the authority and the funds to respond immediately in crisis with disaster relief. Governor LePage used $100,000 of these funds in 2011 to assist in winter storm relief for several Maine counties.
The fund has been used by several past Governors in recent years for disaster relief, including the breach of Apple Valley Dam in 1997, the 2002 fires in Lincoln, and flooding in York County in 2006.
Office of the Speaker of the House
m. 207. 287-1307
c. 207. 841.6279