WESLACO, RGV – The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council has decided not to send a generic letter to the White House taking issue with President Trump’s “blueprint” budget.
Rather, the official council of government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties wants to give specific examples of how TIGER grants, Community Development Block Grants, and projects partially funded by the Economic Development Administration has benefited the Valley.
The Trump budget zeros out funding for TIGER grants, CDBG, and the EDA.
“I know there is a generic letter going out (in opposition to the Trump budget), but I think it is much more effective if we list the specific programs we benefit from. Instead of saying, hey, don’t do it, let’s give real life examples of how it will impact our communities,” said McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, at a recent LRGVDC meeting.
Discussion on the Trump budget came up at the LRGVDC after its executive director, Ron Garza, said he had participated a National Association of Counties legislative conference in Washington, D.C. When he came back, Garza asked his board of directors to take a look at Trump’s “blueprint” budget.
LRGVDC President and Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez quipped: “You said, take a look at it. It didn’t take long. There is nothing there.”
Garza said the Valley can provide many examples of how federal programs and agencies help the Valley. He pointed out that a TIGER grant helped fund a hike and bike trail in Brownsville. “That is a great project,” Garza said.
With regard to CDBG, Garza said the Trump administration is arguing that such funds do no directly impact those in poverty. He acknowledged that CDBG funds have broad use. However, he said in the Valley there is no question they help the poor.
With regard to EDA, Garza said the Trump administration is arguing that there are limited variable outcomes. He said that is not the case in the Valley. “EDA has been very good for this region. It has provided the anchor funding for a lot of projects across the Valley.”
In an interview after the council of government meeting, Garza and Mayor Darling provided examples of how programs zeroed out by Trump have had a great impact on the Valley.
“Take Meals on Wheels. It is not only the only meal many seniors get all day, the person delivering the meal is the only person the senior sees all day. It is a hugely important program and it is very sad the budget has cut out funding,” Darling said.
Garza concurred. “Thanks to CDBG funding, home-delivered meals are provided to the elderly and the poor, so are medications, and so are durable medical supplies. We can refute the claim that CDBG does not help the poor. In our community, there is a lot of need,” Garza said.
Another example cited by Mayor Darling was the impact of certification training. “We (the City of McAllen put up money and so does EDA for certification training. Those taking the course get their welding certificates. If you ask the welders they will tell you, they all get pay raise afterwards. It puts food on the table.”
Garza cited two recent examples of how EDA funding had helped the Valley.
“The Center for Innovation and Commercialization, the EDA put in over a million dollars. It partnered with UTRGV and the City of Weslaco. Not only is the center going to serve as an incubator for new businesses, UTRGV is going to bring over its PhD program in business and innovation. Another example is the Lexus dealership in San Juan. Part of the town needed some infrastructure development and EDA was able to help. That led to the Lexus dealership coming to San Juan.”
Asked about the TIGER grant for Brownsville, Garza said it will help fund a hike and bike trail across the Queen Isabella Causeway, among other things.” It was non-discretionary funds that were used to good effect on local transportation,” he said.
Confirming he would be penning a “high priority” letter to the White House, Garza said: “EDA is very unique in the way they award grants because they are based on innovation and proposals. It really is a head scratcher why this was a strike-through. It is innovation, it is infrastructure, it is job creation. By that assessment, that aligns with the goals of the administration. We need to tell the story of how much impact EDA has.”