McALLEN — Although U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, shared new details Friday regarding the $30 million in federal reimbursements to local entities shouldering the cost of migrant care, questions remain here regarding exactly how much will be disbursed and when.
Flanked by members of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and McAllen city officials in addition to a representative from the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, the congressman provided logistics during a news conference at the Humanitarian Respite Center Friday afternoon. He explained a new process to receive reimbursement is currently being established while applications are not yet available.
Also, the manner in which funds will be divided is still being decided.
“We’re hoping this will be done quickly,” Cuellar said. “I asked them … to make sure they put the emphasis here on the Rio Grande Valley because this is where most of the work has been done so we’re in the process of doing that.”
Cuellar was referring to United Way, which is in part responsible for distributing the funds.
On June 27, Congress passed a $4.6 billion emergency aid bill for what’s been referred to as a border crisis. A total of $30 million from that bill is designated to directly reimburse local governments and non-governmental organizations, NGOs, for covering the price of migrant care.
Language in the bill specified that “funds made available under this section shall be disbursed … not later than 30 days after the date on which such funds become available,” meaning the deadline for cities and NGOs to receive their reimbursement is July 27.
“Quite honestly, I don’t think they’re going to meet the 30 days,” Cuellar said. “They’re still trying to decide how to divide the money. They’re still working on the process, the application. I think they’re trying to meet it as close as possible.”
Cuellar explained there is a new delivery model being designed that includes bypassing the state of Texas so that cities and NGOs receive their money directly from federal agencies.
“The local communities will now go to the United Way board, file the application that will go up to FEMA board, and then that money will go directly back for the reimbursement,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said that when he asked United Way when the application process will be open, they said “as soon as possible.”
In the summer of 2014, the U.S. faced a similar influx of Central American migrants. In response to that crisis, the state of Texas received $100 million in FEMA State Homeland Security Program funds, but only $400,000 was actually reimbursed to the McAllen area because of the process set in place at that time.
Veronica Whitacre, a McAllen city commissioner, said the city has spent over $1 million on migrant care, yet has only received 12% of that back.
Cuellar described three possible options for dividing the $30 million: split the money between all 50 states; send all of it to mainly the four border states, which are Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California; or divide most of the money to local communities with an emphasis on South Texas and some of it to other areas who are also impacted.
Cuellar stressed that reimbursements will prioritize food and shelter costs.