EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — A Texas state senator appointed by the governor to a committee that oversees the distribution of coronavirus CARES Act relief funds calls the process laid out by the federal government complicated and messy, adding that the rules change often.
In a 30-minute exclusive interview Friday at his offices in Ediburg, Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told Border Report that “Congress, quite frankly, made a mess.” He added that the regulations are “rolling rules,” which he said are “never set in stone and are changed and modified on a regular basis, and so we have to deal wtih those challenges as well.”
Hinojosa is one of just two state senators appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to an oversight committee that meets every afternoon to help make recommendations on where best the state should spend the $11.2 billion appropriated for the state of Texas by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. He said Abbott often attends the conference meetings and listens to their suggestions on where best to give money.
Twelve counties and six cities with populations over 500,000 have gotten direct funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury. But the remaining 242 counties and all cities under 500,000 residents must apply with the State of Texas for the remaining $1.85 billion in COVID-19 relief funds. This equates to $55 per capita for the remaining 242 counties and jurisdictions.
But many cities and counties have been complaining that it’s not enough, especially when the larger jurisdictions that received money from the Treasury received it based on $174.60 per capita. Hidalgo County in South Texas, for instance, received $151 million and is the only county south of San Antonio to receive direct funding.
Money for all of the smaller counties and jurisdictions is being distributed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which as of Friday has given out $60.9 million to 114 counties and 159 municipalities, Hinojosa told Border Report. He said the state is holding back $1.2 billion in case there is a second wave of COVID-19, and to ensure there is enough money to go around through the end of this year.
The state is offering all of the 242 smaller counties as well as municipalities 20% of the funds for which they qualify for
But Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr., on Friday told Border Report that it’s not that simple or easy. And he complained that counties are getting the short end.
Cameron County has so far only received $1.2 million, or $11 per capita and only for the 125,000 residents living in rural areas, not for those living in cities.
The city of Corpus Christi in Nueces County has received $18 million, but the county has only received $900,000, said Hinojosa, whose district includes Nueces and Hidalgo counties.
“That’s so unfair to counties because we still have to provide emergency services to the entire county and we are getting a small amount,” Treviño said. “Luckily they gave us that 20% to get started with, at least.”
Treviño made the comments a day after he openly complained during a news conference in Weslaco, Texas, with three other South Texas judges that funding is not enough, especially when his county has three nursing homes that are hot spots and one of the highest COVID-19 rates along the border.
Hinojosa agrees that Cameron County and El Paso have the highest rate of coronavirus cases and should receive more funding, and therein lies the rub. Because as Congress appropriated the funds and authorized cities and other counties to give their money to those more in need, it did not mandate this to be done. And so he says it is up to his committee to make sure that every dollar that goes out is for COVID-19 expenses.
“Some of these cities and counties have very little coronavirus expenses. They don’t need the money, so that money could be shifted,” Hinojosa said. “We’re here to help. Were not here to impede but at the same time we need to make sure that if you don’t need the money we’re not going to give it. … If they need the money and justify it as necessary COVID-related expenses we will provide them the funding. It’s not complicated but understand we have to make sure.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.
Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.