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HARLINGEN, Texas – U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela has shared with local media outlets a lively back and forth has had with a local constituent who does not like President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

The American Rescue Plan was passed by the U.S. House last Friday, largely along party lines. The Rio Grande Valley’s three members of Congress, Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez voted in favor. The legislation has yet to be heard in the U.S. Senate.

The constituent upset with the bill is retired banker Bob Johnson of Harlingen. In an email to Vela, Johnson makes clear his displeasure with its price tag. He titled the email “$1.9 TRILLION bill, with the word trillion spelled out in capital letters. 

Alan Johnson

“Congressman, if you say this fast enough and often enough it does not sound like much. But, you and your fellow Democrats continue to mortgage the future for at least four more generations. Think about it,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson put this sentence in capital letters: “THE SPENDING HAS TO STOP.”

He added: “I understand having funds to fight this Chinese virus but the rest of that bill is pure B.S. I certainly hope that your new ‘position’ with the DNC does not cloud your responsibilities to constituents in your district, and that does not include those awaiting amnesty.”

DNC stands for Democratic National Commission. Last month, President Biden named Vela a vice chairman of the organization.

In an emailed response to Johnson, Rep. Vela wrote: “Respect your position. Let me know if this means that you are officially rejecting funds directed to Cameron County, the City of Harlingen and Port of Harlingen in this package and I’ll see if others here think I should accommodate your wishes. I, however, will not accommodate your wishes with respect to the funds this package does to assist thousands of your fellow citizens and presumed neighbors who have suffered through this pandemic.”

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela

Vela, D-Brownsville, likely included the Port of Harlingen in his response because Johnson has been a commissioner of the Harlingen Port Authority for three decades. 

Vela followed up with another email to Johnson, saying: “And, by the way, what you call the China virus I call the Trump virus.”

Vela forwarded the email exchange to the Rio Grande Guardian, Brownsville Herald, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, UT-Rio Grande Valley System Regent and Harlingen resident Dr. Nolan Perez, and his cousin, Manny Vela, CEO of Valley Baptist Health System.

In a distinguished career, Johnson rose to become market president and regional manager of a large southern bank. He was also president and CEO of the Valley Baptist Medical (Legacy) Foundation and a commissioned officer in the United States Army.

The first batch of email exchanges occurred Sunday, Feb. 28. They continued on Monday, March 1, but with a more conciliatory tone.

Johnson wrote: “I have no problem with funds for the virus or its related uses. As I read it, only nine percent of this bill is for the pandemic. Please correct me if I am wrong. Also, please tell me how much money is coming to the City of Harlingen and the Port that is in this bill. I was not able to find anything. Again, please correct me if I am wrong.”

Johnson added: “I mean no disrespect with my critique of what is happening in D C. Many of us, including me, did not like Trump but he accomplished many good things. So far, I have not seen that with Biden.”

Vela responded: “Give me a minute. It (additional funding) will be to the county and city. The port won’t actually receive direct funding.”

Vela then email a chart showing how much money the cities and counties in his district would receive under the House version of the American Rescue Plan. The chart showed the City of Harlingen would directly receive $22,125,517.46. It showed Cameron County would directly receive $82,069,858.02.

Johnson replied: “I stand corrected! Thank you for this valuable information. We appreciate all that you do.”

Addressing the fact that the Port of Harlingen would not receive funding directly under the American Rescue Plan, Vela wrote: “I suspect that a subsequent infrastructure package that will sure it be debated will include attempts to fund water ports and ports of entry for that matter.”

Johnson replied: “All ports have struggled over the years for funding even though water borne commerce is the most efficient way to move goods. We, at the Port of Harlingen, sincerely appreciate all that you have done for us. Your predecessor did not even know where the Port of Harlingen was located.”

Supporters of the American Rescue Plan say it will fund COVID-19 vaccinations, provide immediate, direct relief to tens of millions of families bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, and support struggling communities.

Rep. Cuellar, D-Laredo, said the bill will will mount a national vaccination program that includes setting up community vaccination sites nationwide. He said it It will also take complementary measures to combat the virus, including scaling up testing and tracing, addressing shortages of personal protective equipment and other critical supplies, investing in high-quality treatments, and addressing health care disparities. 

“American lives and livelihoods are at stake and they need relief now,” Cuellar said. “The American Rescue Plan takes the bold steps we need to ensure our nation continues to meet the challenge of the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. This legislation delivers robust funding to crush the virus, return children safely to the classroom, get vaccines to the people, put dollars into families’ pockets and put people back to work.”

Cuellar said the legislation would also help put children safely back in school: He noted that the plan will make a nearly $130 billion investment in schools re-opening and making up for lost learning.

“With the American Rescue Plan, we can meet the urgent needs of the American people and help our country through these difficult times. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to listen to the people they represent and pass this critical legislation,” Cuellar added.

Rep. Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said the American Rescue Plan supports state and local governments, noting that it will provide over $27 billion in total funding for the State of Texas.

Gonzalez said the plan finishes the job on President Biden’s promise to provide $2,000 in direct assistance to households across America with checks of $1,400 per person, following the $600 down payment enacted in December.  

He said the plan will also provide direct housing assistance, nutrition assistance for 40 million Americans, expand access to safe and reliable child care and affordable health care, extend and expand unemployment insurance so that 19 million American workers can pay their bills, support 27 million children with an expanded Child Tax Credit and 15 million low-wage workers through the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

“This relief package is a moral necessity and delivers on the promise that no Central and South Texans will be left behind in this time of need,” Congressman Gonzalez said. 

“I am proud to be voting in favor of this legislation that will revitalize our economy and deliver immediate relief to those who are bearing the brunt of the crisis and working day and night to keep our communities safe.”

Gonzalez added that the legislation will provide crucial support for the hardest-hit small businesses with EIDL grants, expanded PPP eligibility and more. He said plan also provides crucial resources to protect the jobs of first responders, frontline public health workers, teachers, transit workers and other essential workers.


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