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Hidalgo County decides to divide CARES funds based on city population

1 year 4 months 3 days ago Monday, May 18 2020 May 18, 2020 May 18, 2020 11:00 PM May 18, 2020 in News - Coronavirus Pandemic

Hidalgo County commissioners decided on Tuesday they would divide the millions they received from the federal government with cities based on population.

The county received nearly $152 million in federal funding to cover COVID-19 related expenses. The U.S. Department of the Treasury outlined what expenses could be reimbursed, but no formula was dictated to counties on how to share the money with subordinate cities.

"No specific guidance was given, so now a small debate has ensued," Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina said during his comments during the commissioners' court meeting.

Commissioners decided to share the money based on the city's size. If a city has more than 30,000 residents, they would receive $110 per person. Cities with populations smaller than that were allocated funding at $80 per person. The allocations for cities total $64 million from the $152 million.

"It's not right what they did," Alton Mayor Salvador Vela said. "They should've given us what we deserve. We should be treated equally because the same people who live here are the same people who live in the bigger city. They're no different."

Alton's city manager, Jeff Underwood, estimated they have spent $800,000 of their own money to cover costs related to the crisis. That's only since March; they don't know how much more they'll be spending through the end of the year.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said the court considered that smaller cities often work with a limited staff and may be lacking a system for distribution.

"The reason the small cities got a smaller amount is because we don't think they're going to have the infrastructure to administer stimulus funding programs because of the size that they are. So, we said, look, if you have worthy businesses and individuals who qualify, send them over to us," Cortez said.

Some cities, such as Edcouch, were satisfied with their allocation. Edcouch Mayor Virginio Gonzalez Jr. sent a statement that reads:

"We are relieved that Federal funds are finally making their way to the local entities. The unexpected expenditures due to this pandemic have been a significant strain on our budgets. These reimbursements are of great benefit to our Cities. We understand there are guidelines and regulations tied to all Federal funds and will comply with those demands. As a City, all we have been advocating for is proportionate sharing and equitable distribution."

Pharr is set to receive $8.7 million dollars, but Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez believes the base limit should've been higher than $110 per resident.

"Best case scenario would be to be funded at the population that the federal government awarded the state and the county which would've been $175 per capita. Which would've been roughly $13 million if I'm not mistaken," Hernandez said.

He believes they don't have a full grasp of the economic impact of the pandemic, but we will soon.

"You don't see the economic impact of it now, you will in the next quarter as the sales tax and everything comes through and people are unable to pay their rent, provide for their families. Property taxes will be affected also because they're not going to be employed through no fault of their own. So, all the trickle effects you'll see down the road," Hernandez said.

The county will be using the rest of the money $88 million to pay for services that will benefit residents countywide.

"We wanted to make sure that we had enough funds to take care of the needs of the whole county for a testing lab and everything in it," Cortez said. They are working on a lab to increase testing, treatment and contract tracing.

School districts also stand to benefit from the funding. "Schools are part of our community also, not only cities. So, we wanted to make sure that some of the monies that we got was to assist students with distance learning," Cortez said.

The cities will be required to enter into interlocal agreements with the county to receive their reimbursements. They will also be required to report their expenses for compliance.

A list of the city total allocations is attached below.

Correction: This story incorrectly stated the name of Edcouch's mayor. He is Virginio Gonzalez Jr.

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