How federal pandemic aid helped Texas pay for its border crackdown
The dynamic has troubled Democrats in Washington, including Reps. Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar, who stressed the money is meant to help Texas respond to the public health crisis. In a letter Monday, they asked Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to conduct a “review” of the matter to determine whether the governor is “diverting pandemic relief funds to provide additional support to the Operation Lone Star”.
“Texas has struggled tremendously during the pandemic, and these funds are critical to helping our state recover from the devastation of the past two years,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. “Governor Abbott must not be allowed to use federal coronavirus relief funds to advance his political theater at the expense of Texas families.”
Fellow Texas Representatives Lloyd Doggett, Colin Allred, Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green, Marc Veasey, Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Fletcher joined Castro and Escobar in signing the letter.
A Treasury Department spokeswoman said the agency has received and is reviewing the letter. A spokeswoman for the Texas governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vaccine bonuses, business aid and . . . a golf course? Cities and states have used $350 billion in stimulus windfalls for a wide variety of purposes.
The request adds to the burden already facing Washington as it struggles to closely monitor the roughly $6 trillion in stimulus funds Congress has approved since the pandemic began. That includes about $500 billion in direct tax assistance to cities, counties and states, a tranche of funds spread across two programs that has few restrictions on exactly how it can be used.
Much of that money is being channeled into an initiative passed last spring as part of the US bailout, a law that gave local governments wide latitude to spend their allocations in hopes of rejuvenating their economies. In some cases, however, the flexibility has opened the door for states to pursue a host of seemingly unnecessary projects — from renovating prisons to building new golf courses. One state, Arizona, even used the money to discourage schools from requiring students to wear masks, prompting the Treasury Department to threaten to claw back the aid.
Spending has taken on added importance as the Biden administration sounds new alarms about the need for billions of dollars in additional coronavirus aid. Congress has struggled for months to pass even half of what the White House originally asked for, leaving some to fear that federal inaction — and poor spending decisions in states — could leave the country in the lurch. unprepared if the pandemic worsens again.
“Without timely COVID funding, more Americans will die unnecessarily,” Biden warned in a statement Monday as Congress returned to work. The president asked lawmakers to pass the money “in the coming days” separately from another spending package to provide aid to Ukraine. The separation of the two aims to accelerate support for the war-torn nation as the fight against coronavirus-related spending continues. Republicans have threatened to block the pandemic bill unless they can first vote on an amendment unrelated to immigration.
In Texas, meanwhile, the nine Democrats criticized the governor’s efforts to redirect stimulus dollars “intended to help Texas rebuild after the pandemic.” Some of the money earmarked involves aid approved under the bipartisan Care Act enacted early in the pandemic. But lawmakers said their concerns extended to how Texas committed about $16 billion in the subsequent U.S. bailout — aid they fear could also be “diverted to support the failed program of Operation Loan Star”.
“It is negligent and irresponsible of Governor Abbot to allocate additional funds to Operation Lone Star, especially if the funding in question was intended to help Texans rebuild after the pandemic,” they wrote.
Responding to The Post last week, an Abbott spokeswoman did not address the use of pandemic dollars – but blamed the Biden administration for creating “an ongoing crisis along our southern border and throughout Texas, with millions of illegal immigrants from over 150 countries crossing the border.”