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Woman Claims County is Not Helping with Needed Payments

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EDINBURG – A Hidalgo County woman seeking financial assistance with her utility bill said she was knocked out of line.

Edinburg resident Karen Thompson-Malone said she has a back injury and lives on a monthly disability check. She is raising a 6-year-old granddaughter with intellectual disabilities and tries to make sure the air conditioner is running for her comfort.

"She has autism, ADHD, ODD and some other things," she said.

Thompson-Malone said she waited at the Hidalgo County Community Service Agency in Edinburg early Monday morning to pick up her assistance. It was to cover a $157.64 utility bill due on June 22. 

"We got here at four something and, also, they were passing me up. The people were walking in front of me, around me. It's not fair!" she said.

Thompson-Malone said she was 24th on the agency's list to get her payments. But at 8 a.m., workers told her they had already served the 30 people they were going to serve for the day.

She said she will have to try again when she submits her name Wednesday morning.

Hidalgo County Community Service Agency Executive Director of Jaime Longoria said there is no formal policing of the lines in the agency. He said the process of picking up the payments is always difficult.

"The issues we're faced with is this: We put out a list, we have people sign up. People will sign up and go home. And then there's a train wreck when you have people that spent the night and people who show up at eight o'clock because they were here at six o'clock in the evening and they signed on the list,” he said.

Longoria said Hidalgo County residents, such as Thompson-Malone, can always come to his office to apply for assistance. But due to budget constraints, the county can only provide so much.

He estimated 12,000 Hidalgo County homes qualify for assistance.  The aid is often for elderly and the disabled. 

"We'll assist them with their current bill, plus three or four, two or three future months," he said.

Longoria said Thompson-Malone has reached the maximum amount of payments she can receive. He added she would now have to meet criteria for a crisis situation to get a payment for this month. 

He said the agency has the funding to serve about 6,000 families. He explained the typical family needs an average of about $600 a year and the state allocates his group $3.6 million annually.

Hidalgo County often provides assistance for a utility bill for what it determines is a crisis situation. Longoria said if a utility company has sent a Hidalgo County resident a disconnection notice or the resident has been disconnected, it is considered the criteria for a crisis.

He said the county can pay the utility bill if the resident comes to his office with the notice. For more information on this service, call Hidalgo County Community Services at 956-383-6240

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