HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the senior Republican lawmaker from Texas, this week announced that $8.2 million in additional federal CARES Act funds on its way to Hidalgo County and seven South Texas border cities that are suffering physically and economically from the COVID-19 crisis. But leaders of two of the largest cities soon learned that delivery could take months.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told Border Report that city officials now expect $1.086 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Ramiro Gonzalez, director of government and community affairs for the City of Brownsville, anticipates $1.45 million, though he doesn’t expect it until the city goes through a formal application process as the previous two times.
“Every time they announce it it doesn’t mean we got a check already. We still have to go through the steps for using HUD (Housing and Urban Development fund) money,” Gonzalez said.
Many South Texas cities have expressed frustration in trying to access the stimulus funds appropriated by Congress to help provide economic relief to communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only municipalities with populations over 500,000 received direct stimulus funding from the federal government. Hidalgo County, with a population of 860,000, is the only entity in the Rio Grande Valley to get direct funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury during this pandemic, receiving $151 million in April. That prompted public grumbling by officials in Pharr, McAllen, and 20 other cities that had to ask Hidalgo County officials to distribute the funds.
Cornyn on Wednesday said Hidalgo County was to receive an additional $3.32 million in supplemental Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. These South Texas cities also were to receive the following funds through this round of CARES Act disbursements:
- Brownsville – $1.45 million
- McAllen – $1.08 million
- Pharr – $585,145
- Edinburg – $563,938
- Mission – $514,625
- Harlingen – $495,398
- San Benito – $176,736
Initially, Cornyn’s spokeswoman Libby Hambleton Sharp told Border Report that the funds were to be immediately received and speculated of the delay: “It could be in transit.” She later amended that to explain that funds were disbursed on Sept. 11 and recipients must submit their plan to HUD for approval in order to receive the money, according to agency regulations.
Hidalgo County has been hit exceptionally hard by COVID-19, suffering the second-most fatalities of any county in Texas below Harris County and Houston. As of Wednesday, there have been 1,470 coronavirus-related deaths and 30,046 cases, Hidalgo County officials reported. Many of the deaths and cases have been clustered in McAllen, Pharr and Mission.
In neighboring Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, there have been 22,276 coronavirus cases and 852 deaths, county officials reported as of Wednesday. Many cases have been reported in the cities of Brownsville and San Benito and an especially high number of cases and deaths in nursing homes in Harlingen.
Economically, the region has been suffering from travel restrictions that have been in place since March 20 due to the pandemic that prevent shoppers from coming from Mexico. On Thursday, Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations announced that travel restrictions would be extended at least another 30 days, through Oct. 21.
“Texas families are still struggling as the coronavirus outbreak wreaks havoc on our way of life, and that’s why it’s critical that we in Washington make sure they are protected,” Cornyn said, adding that the “economic recovery in the Rio Grande Valley (is) a high priority.”
Nevertheless, Gonzalez anticipates receipt of the $1.45 million for Brownsville could take three or four months and come well after the Nov. 3 election.
Cornyn is in a heated battle with opponent Democratic war veteran M.J. Hegar to maintain the seat he has held since 2002.
Gonzalez said in order to receive supplemental CDBG funds, municipalities must show how they intend to use the money, indicate a need and show proof of funds spent in the past.
“We submit the report to HUD to say this is the way we decided to spend it, and then at that point we start to see some of the money,” Gonzalez said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.