The COVID-19 pandemic has strained budgets everywhere, both private and public. Federal relief efforts have been welcome, but they’re not enough.
We’ve all had to deal with added costs of masks, cleaning supplies and other unexpected necessities the pandemic has created, not to mention higher grocery costs and, for many, lost wages due to job furloughs and reduced hours.
Public interests have similar issues; reduced business has meant smaller tax infusions, even as the demand for services has skyrocketed.
No one’s needs will be fully met. Some understandably will focus on their own needs, but we trust most understand that everyone has to make sacrifices.
As always, that is best achieved when those who allocate resources are as transparent as possible.
A good illustration of the problems many communities face can be seen in Hidalgo County, where some people are complaining about how federal relief funds are being handed out.
The county received some $151 million to meet community needs. After sometimes contentious discussions with local mayors, much of it was allocated. Since then, others have pointed out that other needs exist as well. Hospitals throughout the region are filled with COVID-19 patients. One repurposed a pediatric floor to treat stricken adults; in neighboring Cameron County, at least one portable school classroom building was sent to a hospital and converted into an intensive care ward. Hospitals have spent unbudgeted millions to acquire protective clothing, respirators and other equipment.
Health officials and advocates insist that the county could reformulate the allocations, or cities could offer part of their allotment, to help the medical centers. After all, lives are at stake.
Unfortunately, many people say county officials aren’t as available and as forthcoming as they should be in order to help all interested parties know what is available, where it’s going and why.
Some of those allocations might be just as necessary in other areas.
For example, allocations to improve internet service is one target of contention. However, communications infrastructure is vital to emergency service providers. In addition, as we don’t know how long this crisis, and consequent stay-home orders, will last, we must recognize the need to have such service available in case students once again have to take their courses remotely. Also, many doctors and patients are handling nonemergency medical issues over the internet, which leaves the medical centers and their staff available for more critical cases, including COVID-19.
The best way to address such issues, of course, is to address the core problem — the pandemic. If more people begin taking the suggested precautions and reducing the spread of the coronavirus, the need for services to treat it, and the money it requires, will be reduced.
Officials, in Hidalgo County and everywhere else, can help ease public concerns if they can justify their use of resources and show their limitations. That won’t happen, however, if officials aren’t willing to provide necessary information and engage in discussions that might not be pleasant, but are necessary.