McAllen still unable to secure migrant aid reimbursement

McALLEN — U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn have assured the city of McAllen that it will receive reimbursement for hundreds of thousands of dollars the city has spent assisting asylum-seeking migrants dropped off by federal authorities at the downtown bus station.

Not only has a reimbursement not happened this year after legislation was passed for precisely that, but city officials don’t even know who to contact anymore at the federal government.

“Can I leave you a number where we could be updated?” McAllen Assistant City Manager Michelle Rivera said on a conference call Tuesday that was organized by Cuellar, where officials from cities and nonprofit organizations in other cities along or near the border asked questions of Cuellar and multiple members of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program National Board, which is responsible for reviewing applications submitted for reimbursement.

“The McAllen issue,” one of the board members said, could be more easily handled if the board could discuss with Rivera after the conference call. Other cities and nonprofits had similar concerns about a lack of reimbursement. A representative from the food bank in El Paso that has provided food for migrants said on Tuesday’s call that their application was declined.

“We were caught up in a Catch-22, primarily because we were proactive in the response,” said Edward Gonzales, a city of San Antonio employee on Tuesday’s call.

Tuesday was but another snag in the city of McAllen’s seemingly endless pursuit for federal reimbursement, which has been underscored by bickering between city officials and federal representatives, including a jab from Cuellar at City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez at an August news conference alongside U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I don’t see the city manager from McAllen — I want to make sure he gets this straight,” Cuellar said at the news conference, citing public remarks Cuellar said he heard McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez make about blaming Congress for its inability to provide reimbursements to the city after spending more than $1 million on migrant care since 2014.

At the time, Rodriguez called Cuellar’s remarks “fair.”

“However, the city has spent over $1 million since 2014 and has been reimbursed $140,000,” Rodriguez said. “Someone has got to figure this out, and it can’t be the city of McAllen.”

But Cuellar’s critique of Rodriguez has done nothing for securing funding for the city, something he has assured, and did so again on Tuesday.

“They have not rejected McAllen’s application,” Cuellar said of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program National Board. The national board, after receiving a green light on McAllen’s application from a local South Texas board that initially approved the submission, asked McAllen for additional documents, which McAllen did not provide, Cuellar said.

“It’s merely pending,” a Cuellar aide said, adding that the application could be approved before the end of the year, but that was unclear.

Cornyn has called the delay “more of a bureaucratic issue.”

And two weeks ago, during a visit to the Valley, Cornyn told Darling of the reimbursement: “It’s coming.”