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McALLEN, RGV – State Sen. Juan Hinojosa says the city of McAllen and Hidalgo County will get reimbursed for the monies they spent last year providing humanitarian relief to undocumented refugees from Central America.

Hinojosa said that as vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance he was able to add language to the new state budget to make sure homeland security federal funds can be passed on by the state to border communities that provide such aid. The reimbursement money will be available from September 1 onwards.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa

“I placed a rider on the budget to make sure that any federal funds that are provided to reimburse cities that help provide support for families who are crossing the border and who need assistance in terms of food, shelter, and healthcare, that the monies spent by local communities will be reimbursed by the state,” Hinojosa said.

Tens of thousands of immigrants, many of them children and mothers from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras came through the Rio Grande Valley last summer seeking a new home in the United States. Many said they were escaping violence and poverty in their home countries. Catholic Charities, the City of McAllen, and Hidalgo County, provided aid to them and won plaudits from around the nation for doing so.

“The city of McAllen and Hidalgo County will be getting that money back. I will make sure of that. I am working on it,” Hinojosa said. “I have been assured that if any money has been sent down by the federal government, that it will be reimbursed to the city of McAllen, to Hidalgo County, to any city that contributed to help the humanitarian crisis we faced last year. I will be pushing when the new money becomes available to reimburse those cities for their expenses.”

Asked why the state has not passed any money through so far, Hinojosa said: “Initially there was some confusion and some people did not want the Valley to be declared a crisis area. That would have triggered funds from the state to come down and the local governments opposed that. You cannot have it both ways. Those that control the funds may have used that non-declaration as a way of not reimbursing because they did not think there was a crisis. They would argue, well, if there is not a crisis why do you need the money? If we had said there is a crisis the governor would have stepped in and we would have received financial assistance.”

In June, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar held a news conference at McAllen City Hall to announce that he and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn had added language to a homeland security appropriations bill to ensure border cities would get reimbursed for the humanitarian aid they provide to immigrants arriving in the United States.

Cuellar said the state of Texas had received $1.3 billion over the last ten years from this federal funding source and that just recently it received $21 million.

“We put the language in to allow the border cities to get reimbursed for their humanitarian work. The state responded that the funds were already obligated. We worked with Senator Hinojosa during the legislative session to make sure the reimbursement came through,” Cuellar said.

Asked why he thought the state funds had not come through, Cuellar said: “They would rather put the money somewhere else. About $1.5 million would have come to the Valley. I thought the state would have made a good faith effort to send that money to the Valley. But, their priorities are a little different. I guess they do not want to show they are using homeland security dollars to provide humanitarian care. The state does have the money. Point blank. It is not a lot of money. They did not want to do it. They have the money.”

At the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council meeting in June, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling quipped that perhaps Cuellar’s news conference was a little premature. Darling had spoken at the news conference.

“The state of Texas tells us there is only $8 left in the 2014 account. I do not want to be flippant about it but it was premature to hold a news conference because the money was not guaranteed. We want to work with the Congressman. I am sure he did not know this was going to happen,” Darling said.

Manuel Cruz is director of homeland security operations for the LRGVDC. Cruz confirmed that there was only $8 left uncommitted from the 2014 homeland security funds allocated by the federal government to the state of Texas. Not $8 million, not $8,000, just $8.

“Out of $600,000, more or less, that the state received in 2014, there is only $8 left. Also, the funds for 2015 are already committed. It is disappointing because humanitarian aid was added to the guidelines as an allowable cost. But they (Cuellar and Cornyn) failed to identify where the money was going to come from,” Cruz said.

“I was hoping they would identify additional funds to fund this humanitarian effort. These cities did not have to do this but they stepped forward and they made a difference. It is money in their budget that they were not planning to spend. I wish additional money would have come down the pike for this effort.”