By: Oriana Farnham
No matter where you live, higher housing costs are everywhere right now. Many people are having difficulty affording rent, are worried about eviction, or have lost their home. Maine’s housing crisis has multiple causes – not enough homes being built, not enough help for buyers to afford a home, and not enough protections for renters – but a few resources may offer help.
One is General Assistance (GA), a state program run by Maine’s cities and towns. It helps people who lack other resources to pay for necessities like housing, electricity, heat, food, and medicine.
You can apply for GA in your town or city. Larger towns have specialized GA or social services offices to take applications. In smaller municipalities, town clerks often take applications. Anyone who is homeless or living in temporary housing can apply in the town where they’re currently located. Towns can’t require someone to apply in the place where they last lived. Please contact Maine Equal Justice if a municipal GA administrator won’t take your application.
Here are a few common questions about GA:
What do I need to apply for GA?
You need to show that you don’t have the financial resources to pay for basic necessities like housing.
If you’ve applied for GA in the past, you may need to prove that you’ve spent all your income in the last month on “basic needs.” Basic needs include food, potable water, clothing, shelter, fuel, electricity, medically necessary services recommended by a physician, medications, and phone bills (if you need your phone for medical reasons, such as regularly communicating with medical providers). Your town may have a longer list of basic needs; ask the GA administrator what the town considers basic needs.
What if the town office accepting GA applications is closed?
You have the right to apply for emergency GA any hour of any day of the week (24/7). Every town must provide information on their website and/or at their town office about how to do that. Many towns tell people to call the local police department (non-emergency number) to apply for GA outside of business hours. If you have trouble accessing your GA office or applying, you can call the State GA Hotline at (800) 442-6003.
I tried applying, but they didn’t let me complete an application. What should I do?
Everyone has the right to apply for GA. Even if you’re not eligible, they must let you apply and give you a written denial letter. If the town says, “You’re probably not eligible…,” you have the right to say, “I’d like to apply anyway,” and ask for the decision in writing.
If you follow these steps and you still can’t apply, or if you didn’t receive a written decision, contact the State GA Hotline at (800) 442-6003 to make a complaint. You can also contact Maine Equal Justice.
I applied for GA but got a written denial. Now what?
If you get a written denial, you only have five days to request a fair hearing. You must request this in writing. Email is fine, if you have the GA administrator’s email address. If not, bring a signed and dated letter to the GA office that says something like: “I am requesting a fair hearing,” “I believe I’m eligible for GA and GA was wrong to deny me,” or “I believe I’m eligible for GA to pay for my housing costs that I can’t afford.” Be sure to include your address and phone number so they can contact you about the hearing time and date!
After you’ve followed these steps, the town is required to schedule a hearing within five working days. This is informal and normally happens at the town office or by phone.
Can I have someone with me at my fair hearing?
You can bring anyone you like, including an interpreter or your representative. You can contact Maine Equal Justice or Pine Tree Legal Assistance to request representation in your case.
Can I get GA if I’m already getting Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA)?
Yes. ERA doesn’t count as “income.” If you’re receiving ERA to help pay your housing costs, but you still need help paying for other necessities, you can apply for GA.
If the town says you can’t get ERA and GA at the same time, you can call the State GA Hotline at (800) 442-6003 to make a complaint, or contact Maine Equal Justice.
For more information:
● State GA Hotline: (800) 442-6003
● Maine Equal Justice: maineequaljustice.org/people/legal-assistance-contact/
● Pine Tree Legal Assistance: ptla.org/contact-us