This week, U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D) revealed that President Donald Trumps proposed budget cuts would greatly affect government assistance in the Rio Grande Valley, specifically within Hidalgo County. The McAllen Monitor, which picked up on the budget cuts, provided a list of agencies affected, placing emphasis on Community Development Block Grants, and funds made available to Hidalgo County Community Service Agency to provide job assistance and other forms of aid to the community. With these cuts came the enduring narrative that Trump is an out of touch oppressor of the poor and vulnerable.
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, in a quote provided to the The Monitor said of the budget cuts:
“It will hurt the poorest of the poor.”
Garcia continued by demonstrating his concern for the poor and elderly, who he believed these cuts are specifically targeting. However, Garcia showed little concern for the 2016 disastrous Health Care Tax Proposal, which if passed, would have greatly affected the county’s most vulnerable from paying more on their property tax, and potentially losing their homes.
It’s ironic that Hidalgo County, which has historically demonstrated to operate on a policy of crony dealing and wasteful and in effective spending, suddenly is the moral authority on government spending. Trump’s proposed cuts allows us to reevaluate the operations of the agencies that receive them, and hold these agencies accountable for how these funds are being used.
“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” – Vice President Joe Biden.
The Monitor provided a list of agencies most affected by the proposed budget cuts. One of these agencies, The Hidalgo County Community Service Agency stands to see a 1.8 million reduction in funds, which according to Executive Director Jaime Longoria, would eliminate the agency entirely. Currently, the agency administers two mult-imillion dollar grants, and one in particular, The Community Service Block Grant, is meant to provide funding to transition poor individuals out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. The agency has been administering this grant for the past 10 years, and receives an annual allocation 1.6 million (on average).
Let’s take a look at the 2016 Hidalgo County CSBG Budget as provided by the agency.
As seen on the proposed budget, personnel and fringe benefits accounted for $944,527 out of a total budget of $1,589,572, accounting for a whopping 62% of total cost of the grant. This is before factoring other administrative cost such as travel, supplies, and utilities. The agency, according to Mr. Longoria, has about 33 employees, which is significantly higher than other state agencies that administer similar grants. Prior to 2016, the agency even had an even more bloated staff of about 48, which created a staffing concern with the funding agency.
Taking a closer look, we see the amounts allocated to various positions within the agency.
Compare that to the amounts budgeted for assistance as intended by the grant.
The 2016 CSBG budgeted a paltry $301, 345, or approximately 18% of total budget. With these numbers, it would appear that the grant exists essentially to just pay for staff to administer their other major grant, the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program, which would appear to be contrary to CSBG’s purpose. Comprehensive Energy has its own administrative allocation to pay for personnel to provide its direct services.
As questioned earlier, are all administrative cost essential to operations? Let’s examine two of the positions and check for redundancy in duties.
Manager of Administrative Operations
General Accounting Supervisor
Both positions appear to provide the same scope of duties, specifically with the area of routine accounting and budgeting.
Who is the final approval of annual budgets?
Who really is in charge of the accounting department and its operations?
Collectively, both positions account for over $109,000 in personnel cost, not including their benefits cost.
Can Community Service Agency operations be handled without one of these positions?
Just recently, the Manager of Operations position closed for new applications after Guillermo “Willie” Palacios, a relative of County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, vacated the position late last year.
With an agency of only 33 staff members, is it reasonable and ordinary to have a Manager of Operations considering each department has their own respective supervisor?
On paper, it would appear that President Trump’s budget cuts are unfair and particularly harsh to those in most of need of these federal dollars. The local media doesn’t hesitate to tug at our hearts by reminding us that Hidalgo County is one of the most impoverished regions in the Country, and the loss of assistance funding would be catastrophic for area residents. Ultimately, the aforementioned agencies will still receive funding, but it would not be the amounts they once enjoyed. When faced with limited resources, one must learn how to be resourceful, economical, and more effective with what you have. Something many in or local county governments don’t know the meaning of.
Community Development Grants have a history of crony capitalism benefiting those most involved choosing the development projects, and ignoring conflict of interest and other ethical behavior by hiring companies associated with local officials. We don’t have to go very far to turn over these type of rocks.
Perhaps ultimately, that’s where the genuine lamenting of the budget cuts from local politicians and officials really is coming from. Not because it will no longer benefit members of the community, but because Trump has tightened the valve of opportunity for which these politicians and those associated with them use to transition themselves out of poverty.