EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A large coalition of groups is asking the El Paso City Council to spend $12 million on immigrant families left out of coronavirus federal stimulus payments.
The migrant advocates say the city should earmark a portion of the $119 million in federal COVID-19 relief to help 54,000 individuals in 26,000 “mixed-status” households whose members contribute to El Paso’s tax base and the economy.
Mixed-status refers to a family in which one or both parents are undocumented immigrants and everyone else a U.S. citizen. Households with members without a Social Security number reserved for citizens or legal residents did not receive a federal stimulus check of $1,200 per individual plus $500 for each child.
“The CARES Act substantially bypassed them. Many can’t get that funding, most notably children — a large number of U.S. citizen children,” said Josiah Heyman, a member of the nonprofit El Paso Health Science Policy Group. “It’s an investment in the economy and the social development of the community to take care of those children.”
He and other El Paso social services advocates emphasized that adults who’re not getting outside help after losing their jobs due to the pandemic are at a higher risk of catching COVID-19 because “they have to go out and somehow find ways to survive.”
Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, expressed concern about the city leaving out tens of thousands of its residents from any local COVID-19 stimulus help.
“Not once did I hear anyone mention these folks from El Paso that have been left behind. They were not a priority. I know resources are lacking but a lot of folks are hurting. This is a population that is doubly disadvantaged. Today we can rectify that,” he said. “These population has been left on the margins (of society) and now these families are going to be pushed out.”
The two-day blitz — coalition members also spoke at Monday’s Council work session — in favor of what they call the Fund for the Common Good found support among some city councilors and confused others.
District 4 Rep. Sam Morgan asked city staff where the money requested was coming from because he understood El Paso’s federal money has already been earmarked for three major “pots.”
Members of City Manager Tommy Gonzalez’s staff said the “community” portion of the $119 million in federal funds totals $16.4 million and will be split between rental, mortgage and utility assistance, rapid “re-housing” of the displaced, food banks and job creation.
“We’re not turning anyone away. There’s a need for jobs and paying the rent. That includes the immigrant population as well,” Gonzalez said.
He added that the city would follow any federal regulations attached to the funds but at the same time listen to community groups that may be knowledgeable of where the needs lie.
“It’s a similar process to the CDBG (community development block grants). It’s a strenuous process that the council will approve,” the city manager said. “We need to get money in the hands of the most needy as soon as possible.”
The rest of the funds are geared toward direct resources against the pandemic and to keep the city running amid expected multi-million dollar budget shortfalls this year and next due to a collapse in sales tax and bridge toll revenue brought about by business closings, the stay-at-home order and international travel restrictions, the city manager’s staff said.
Prior to a scheduled vote on the federal funding, District 2 Rep. Alexsandra Annello asked for clarification on what, exactly, the council was voting on this Tuesday.
“I agree with some of the public (input). This does not allocate dollars to any one individual group or any one individual concern of the community.,” she said. “It’s great we are allied in our concerns […] I just want to clarify.”
The vote was on a combined resolution of several items in which the council:
- Urges residents to continue to practice social distancing, wear face coverings, avoid public and social gathering and adhere to CDC guidelines;
- Directs the city manager to develop testing strategies and contact tracing to increase the testing to 5% of the population within the next 30 days and show exponential testing growth thereafter;
- Directs the city manager to bring stakeholder activities and updates bi-weekly to City Council meetings.
- Directs the city manager and city attorney to report any and all COVID-19 information, activities and efforts to City Council within reasonable time.
- Directs the city manager to receive input from stakeholders and City Council regarding the use of CARES Act funding to support persons who have been impacted financially and who are experiencing financial hardship, in accordance with the CARES Act and the Treasury Department guidelines, to include but not limited to:
a. Rental assistance support
b. Utility assistance support
c. Wage assistance support
d. Grocery assistance support
e. Small business grant and loan support
f. Testing expansion and access
g. Hiring and training contact tracers at volumes recommended h. Any public health projects that would qualify for funding
The measure passed with a 7-1 vote.