Process of CARES Act fund distribution for Hidalgo County, explained
The coronavirus pandemic struck fast and hit hard. Countries responded as quickly as they could first to address the health crisis and later the economic one.
A few weeks ago, $152 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was deposited to Hidalgo County.
“What I think, it’s important for everybody to know that not a single penny has been spent yet,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez.
Cortez says the county is working out how it can spend it. It’s designated to cover COVID-19 related expenses incurred by the county and cities.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury set forth guidance in late April. It explained the money will cover costs that:
- 1. Are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19
- 2. Were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the State or government
- 3. Were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 30, 2020
Cities, such as McAllen, are anticipating losing $10 million in sales tax, according Roel “Roy” Rodriguez, McAllen city manager. The city is scrambling to recover its losses. The sales tax is not something these funds can cover, but it can help with other expenditures.
At the moment, the problem is who gets how much. Some believe it should be divided by population.
“So, if you think about it, the city of McAllen, city of Pharr, city of Mission, city of Weslaco, Donna, those populations are a lot more voluminous versus the unincorporated areas of the county. So, when you look at it, it's $151 million for Hidalgo County, but really some of that money needs to trickle down to the respective cities. That's where I think the money should go,” said State Representative Oscar Longoria.
Longoria says the cities make up the bulk of the county’s population. The money should follow that pattern. At this point, it’s just a suggestion because there is no directive on how the county needs to split it.
Cortez believes the parameters are enough to determine dividends.
“So, to me, I think it’s very clear. I don’t have any problems with the language because it was a direct grant to the county for specific reasons or purposes,” said Cortez.
On Wednesday, Cortez had a call with mayors, but no decision was made. County commissioners are waiting on the research before they decide how to proceed.
Cortez said, “We wanted not to rush to judgement or rush and do things before we had a very clear understanding of where we could use that money and what was the best use of that money.”
Hidalgo County has plans to use some of the money to pay for employees, checking temperatures when the courthouse is reopened.
Cortez is also proposing to give $50 million in grants to small businesses. The rest is still up in the air until December. Any unused funds will go back to the federal government.
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