EDINBURG, Texas – Research shows that when a community has policies and investments to help those in poverty, it not only helps those in need, but it also helps government and ultimately the taxpayer.

So said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez at a recent Prosperity Task Force meeting, held at Hidalgo County Commissioners Court. Cortez set up the task force to tackle his county’s high rate of poverty. 

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics… our poverty rate is 29 percent. We think they’re wrong. We think that amount is really too low,” Cortez told members of the the task force, in his opening remarks.

Cortez proceeded to give evidence that suggests the bureau’s numbers are low.

“We rely on evidence not subjective belief to tell us that we’re more likely right than wrong. What is that evidence? Thirty three percent of our people are receiving public assistance. Forty six percent of the people that are working in Hidalgo County are earning low wages, below poverty. Only 32 percent of the people that live in Hidalgo County have access to health insurance,” Cortez said.

Cortez continued to rattle off the statistics.

“Another alarming statistic is that according to reports by Co-Step, 8.89 percent of boys and girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are classified as disconnected. Meaning that they’re neither working or going to school. So what is the next natural progression of that group of people? They’re going to have babies, okay. So, the cycle of poverty continues.”

Cortez said 37 percent of children in Hidalgo County are food insecure. “That number was 2020. In 2018, it was 27 percent. It is pretty alarming when you go from 27 to 37 in two years.”

Cortez said if one speaks with school superintendents they will tell you that 75 to 80 percent of school children qualify for free meals or reduced meals. “So that is also an indication that that 29 percent is really, possibly, too low.”

Cortez painted a grim picture: “So many of our people are unable to afford really basic necessities, which results in homelessness, hunger, they have health issues, and sometimes unfortunately, even revert to crime.”

Cortez continued: “Research shows that when a community has policies and investments to help those in poverty, it not only helps those that are need, but it helps government and ultimately the taxpayer, which, by definition, if we are successful in our endeavor, that’s going to give us some good results.”

Ensuring the availability of jobs that will economically support a household is extremely important, Cortez explained. He thanked the numerous community leaders that are helping with the Prosperity Task Force.

“Thank you so much for volunteering to help in this extremely important endeavor. What you do matters and how you do it even matters more. And to have the commitment of so many talented, experienced people in tackling this very complex issue of poverty is really exciting for us. And, in a way, you start thinking of what we’re doing here today… we’re demonstrating that we are building community assets. And those community assets are going to help us attract outside investments.”

Cortez added: “I want the whole people around us to know that we are a community. If you come here, we are a community that cares. We’re a community that’s not going to ignore you and push you down when you’re down. We’re going to lift you up when you’re down. And we’re here to help other people. And I believe that that type of attitude is going to help us bring in outside investment and help those that are among us today that are less fortunate.”

Editor’s Note: Here is an audio recording of Judge Cortez’s opening remarks at the Prosperity Task Force meeting held Dec. 7, 2022:


Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a series from the Prosperity Task Force meeting held at Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Dec. 7, 2022. 

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