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Maine Court Turns Back LePage Limits on Food Stamps for Immigrants

The Maine Supreme Court has turned back an attempt by Gov. Paul LePage to limit welfare benefits for some immigrants.

The case was brought forward by Euphrem Manirakiza, an asylum seeker from Burundi who was denied SNAP benefits, or food stamps, in 2015.

This denial happened despite the fact that two years earlier the Legislature specifically authorized such benefits for immigrants who, like Manirakiza, were unemployed but had legal work permits in the U.S.

LePage's Department of Health and Human Services said the legal authority for that assistance had expired. But Tuesday the Supreme Judicial Court said the administration's interpretation of state statute was off-base.

Amy Olfene, who argued the plaintiff's case, agrees.

"They said, 'No, no. no, no,'” said Olfene. “That is completely, if not absurd, that's illogical. That is not consistent with legislative intent. The Legislature clearly wanted that to be a permanent benefit, and your denial of that is unlawful.'”

The number of asylum seekers in Maine who have work papers but no job is estimated to fluctuate between 100 and 150.

Officials in the LePage administration did not respond to interview requests. In filings the state indicated that Maine would extend the food stamp benefits to all immigrants who fit the same category if the court ruled for the plaintiff.