Rep. Cuellar courts governments, NGOs to apply for migrant aid reimbursements

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, during a press conference to announce latest updates on the $30 million for humanitarian reimbursements to local governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the southern border at the Humanitarian Respite Center on Friday, July 19,2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

After a false start earlier this month, applications are set to open as soon as Wednesday for governments and non-government organizations to be able to apply for federal reimbursement for migrant care costs incurred between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said Tuesday.

Once the applications become available online, Cuellar said the entities — such as the city of McAllen and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley — will have 10 business days to submit their applications for reimbursements from a pool of $25 million, which was part of a recently passed congressional spending package. The applications submitted by government and non-government organizations will be approved or denied by a local United Way board, which will follow a list of criteria, Cuellar said.

The local board, followed by a national board, will have to make a decision within 30 days of receiving the application, Cuellar said.

“The fact that they put a window to only apply for 10 days,” Cuellar said Tuesday during a conference call with stakeholders and reporters. He added: “The money has to roll out as soon as possible.”

The reimbursement opportunity comes after years of governments and nonprofit groups spending millions of dollars to temporarily care for asylum-seeking migrants after they’re released from federal custody. Since 2014, the city of McAllen has spent more than $1 million assisting Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley on the migrant aid, and the nonprofit has spent even more than that.

But the city has only been reimbursed $141,000 since 2014, according to city officials and city records. Despite more costs incurred in previous years, this upcoming reimbursement opportunity will only be for costs accumulated during the first six months of this year.

City officials in McAllen said the city will apply for about $160,000 in reimbursements incurred during the first six months this year from the pot of money that was recently passed. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to McAllen earlier in August to see “how the appropriated money is being spent to improve how migrants are being treated.” Part of the recently passed $4.6 billion emergency spending bill for the southern border was for these reimbursements, $25 million of which would go toward entities in border states.

The primary criteria Cuellar outlined on Tuesday that the entities should be reimbursed for include expenses on: food, anything purchased for shelter or food (cots, linens and contracted security), transportation and other supportive services such as toiletries, diapers and feminine hygiene products.

And staffing that cities designated to assist should be reimbursed, according to Cuellar, something a representative from McAllen asked Cuellar about during Tuesday’s call.

“In my opinion,” Cuellar said, “it should be covered.”