Hidalgo Co. to discuss distribution of federal relief funds

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County Commissioners Court will decide Tuesday how to distribute more than $151 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds following a round of unofficial negotiations with city leaders who also want a piece of the pie.

The county received the CRF funds earlier this year as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, a federal relief package Congress passed late March.

“The whole state received $11.2 billion,” state Sen. Juan “Chuy’ Hinojosa said Monday. “Of those $11.24 billion, 55% went to the state and 45% went to the counties and cities. And that was (dictated) by the U.S. Treasury; not the state.”

That means Texas cities and counties could receive up to a total of $5.06 billion in CRF funds to reimburse coronavirus-related expenses incurred from March 30 to Dec. 31.

Almost every jurisdiction in Texas will have to go through the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) to apply for a portion of these funds, but not Hidalgo County, because it has a population of over 500,000.

Federal guidelines stipulate that cities and counties with populations over 500,000 — like Hidalgo County and 17 other jurisdictions in the state — must receive their portion of the money directly from the U.S. Treasury.

In Texas, those 18 jurisdictions accounted for about $3.2 billion out of the $5.06 billion fund that was supposed to be distributed to Texas’ cities and counties. Once those funds were distributed directly to the 18 entities, Texas was essentially left with only about $1.85 billion to distribute to other jurisdictions with a population of less than half-a-million.

“So we ended up with $1.85 billion for the rest of the state… which came out to about $55 per capita,” Hinojosa said.

The issue is, none of the cities inside Hidalgo County have a population of more than 500,000 so they must rely on the county for funds, according to information on TDEM’s website.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, however, appeared to disagree with that notion.

“The money was given directly to the county,” he said Monday. “We have no legal requirement to share it with the cities.”

That being said, the county is still likely to share a portion of the $151 million it received with the municipalities, he added.

“Every city arguably incurred some expenses themselves because of this virus, so we think it’s appropriate for them to be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses,” Cortez said.

Preliminary figures, which only include certain expenditures, indicate Hidalgo County has spent almost $2 million in reimbursable expenses, Cortez said. That figure goes up to $22 million once other cities are factored in.

Cortez said he spoke to a number of city leaders last week about the issue, but because he had no authority to make decisions for the county on his own, a formal agreement has not been forged.

That informal agreement will be discussed and likely approved at Tuesday’s commissioners’ court meeting, he said.

According to Hinojosa, Cortez initially proposed giving municipalities money based on a $55 per capita rate, but city leaders countered with $110 per capita.