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Area congressional leaders and officials with the U.S. State Department on Tuesday, July 21, met in Washington, D.C., to review a proposed legal settlement involving passport applications of U.S. citizens whose births were delivered by midwives and birth attendants, rather than by doctors or at U.S. hospitals. Under the proposed settlement in the federal case, Castelano v. Clinton, the plaintiffs claimed the State Department was improperly processing the passport applications of persons whose births were assisted by midwifes or birth attendants in Texas and along the U.S. – Mexico border. Over the years, a large number of midwives and birth attendants filed birth certificates in Texas for people who were not born in the United States. However, the lawsuit asserted that this fact did not justify the State Department’s practices for processing these applications. The State Department denied the allegations in June 2009. The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing or an indication that any law was violated. Featured from left, facing State Department officials, are: Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso; Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christ; and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen. See story later in this posting. 

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, featured center, first row, recently participated in a Hispanic leaders roundtable at the Texas Capitol with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, seen here, first on left, at the podium. The meeting, hosted by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), included discussions on health care, education, the economy, immigration, and the current Supreme Court nomination, as well as other important issues. In addition to the McAllen Democrat, other participants included: Rep. Trey Martínez Fischer, D-San Antonio and MALC chairman; Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock; Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr., D-Corpus Christi; Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi; Mayor Mike González of Kyle; Blanca García, Chair of the Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Andy Martínez, President and CEO of the Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, among others.      

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The University of Texas-Pan American recently was host to the Migrant University Summer Experience for the second consecutive summer. MUSE served up to 100 rising Rio Grande Valley junior and senior migrant students. “This is a great opportunity to experience university life and to learn about valuable resources offered at the university,” said Jeanette Broshears, associate dean of students. MUSE was created in 2008 to offer migrant students the opportunity to gain university level experience, while attaining two high school credits. Some are given the opportunity to earn college credit. In addition, students received on-campus college residential experience, paid professional workplace internships and college readiness and leadership seminars. Pictured are MUSE students Nelley Cruz-Garza, PSJA High School student, and Valerie García, Palmview High School student, during their internship at the UTPA Student Union. See story later in this posting. 

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President Barack Obama chats with Apollo 11 astronauts, from left, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong, on Monday, July 20, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. He called the Apollo 11 astronauts "American heroes" and praised the entire NASA family for making that iconic flight possible. He also noted how the men’s accomplishment served as inspiration for a generation, and reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to math and science. 

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Walter Cronkite, longtime reporter and news anchor, died July 17, 2009, at the age of 92. Cronkite attended The University of Texas at Austin in the 1930s and worked as a student reporter at The Daily Texan. His papers reside with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the university. In this file photo provided by NASA, the legendary newsman speaks in February  2004 at a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington honoring the fallen astronauts of the STS-107 Columbia mission. See story later in this posting. 

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate jumps to 7.4 percent; worst showing in 4 1/2 years, still best in the Valley

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Edinburg posted a 7.4 percent unemployment rate in June 2009, the worst showing for the three-time All-America City in four and a half years, with 2,348 residents who were willing and able to work that month having no luck in finding a job, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. 

The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy. 

The latest figure come less than two years after Edinburg had its best showing in the city’s history. 

In November 2007, only 3.7 percent of Edinburg’s civilian labor force was unable to find work, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. 

The June 2009 figures also represent a falling-off from the previous month, when the unemployment rate was 6 percent, and there were 1,872 residents unsuccessfully looking for jobs in May 2009. 

The June 2009 statistics are also worse than the same time a year earlier. 

In June 2008, the city’s unemployment rate stood at 5.5 percent, with 1,690 residents jobless but looking for work. 

According to TWC: 

  • The unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force; 
  • The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed; and 
  • To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and  actively seeking work. 

On the plus side, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was still the best in Valley, with even economic powerhouse McAllen struggling, also posting a 7.4 percent level of unemployment for June 2009. 

Hidalgo County fared even worse, with all urban and rural areas totaling an 11.1 percent unemployment rate. 

Cameron County didn’t do much better than Hidalgo County, with all urban and rural areas in Cameron County totaling a 10.4 percent unemployment rate. 

Brownsville, the largest city in the Rio Grande Valley, in June 2009 posted a 10.6 percent unemployment rate. 

A breakdown of the major cities in the Rio Grande Valley shows that they posted the following unemployment rates in June 2009: 

  • Edinburg –7.4 percent
  • McAllen – 7.4
  • Harlingen – 8.4
  • Pharr – 9.5
  • San Benito – 9.6
  • Mission – 9.6
  • Weslaco – 10.3
  • Brownsville – 10.6
  • San Juan – 11.4 

Highlights of key figures for Edinburg include: 

Unemployment rate, by month 

  • June 2009: 7.4 percent
  • June 2008: 5.5
  • June 2007: 5.6
  • June 2006: 6.2
  • June 2005: 5.6 

Unemployment rate, by year 

  • 2008: 5.0 percent
  • 2007: 4.8
  • 2006: 5.3
  • 2005: 4.9 

People looking for work, by month 

  • June 2009: 2,348
  • June 2008: 1,690
  • June 2007: 1,651
  • June 2006: 1,775
  • June 2005: 1,506 

Average of number of people looking for work, by year 

  • 2008: 1,520
  • 2007: 1,417
  • 2006: 1,502
  • 2005: 1,324 

Employed, by month 

  • June 2009: 29,305
  • June 2008: 28,933
  • June 2007: 28,010
  • June 2006: 26,775
  • June 2005: 25,619 

Average of number employed, by year 

  • 2008: 28,971
  • 2007: 28,207
  • 2006: 26,865
  • 2005: 25,538 

The Texas Workforce Commission maintains a detailed accounting of employment trends for Edinburg and all other cities in the state on its website, located at: 

http://www.tracer2.com/cgi/dataanalysis/AreaSelection.asp?tableName=Labforce 

The figures for Edinburg and all other cities only go back to 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, because of substantial methodology changes between 2004 and 2005 in estimating city unemployment statistics, Texas city data is not available prior to 2005. 

Because of substantial methodology changes in geographic areas below the state level, data from 2005 and 2004 or earlier is not considered comparable, the state agency notes. 

Also, according to the Texas Workforce Commission: 

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in June, but remained well below the national rate of 9.5 percent. 

The Texas unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in May. 

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Texas Hospital Association to honor Sen. Hinojosa on July 22 in Edinburg for legislative contributions

By ANA WARD 

Sen. Juan “Chuy”  Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Wednesday, July 22, will be presented the Texas Hospital Advocacy Tribute award during a special event to be held at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg. 

Dan Stultz, M.D., president of the Texas Hospital Association, is scheduled to recognize Hinojosa for his legislative accomplishments on behalf of health care during the regular session of the 81st Texas Legislature this year. 

“Powerful committee assignments assured that Sen. Hinojosa had a key role in almost every issue before the Legislature,” Stultz said in advance of the local gathering. “But as busy as he was, he still found time to champion critical health care issues with characteristic thoughtfulness and fairness.” 

In addition to serving on four other Senate committees during the session, Hinojosa was vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and was a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission. Working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Hinojosa was instrumental in crafting the state’s $182 billion budget for 2010-11. 

Stultz noted that Hinojosa’s leadership was “crucial to the success of key health care measures important to Texas hospitals and all Texans.”  

Stultz pointed to a number of legislative initiatives that Hinojosa championed or supported this session, including: 

• Hinojosa worked closely with the Texas Nursing Workforce Shortage Coalition to address the state’s severe nursing shortage. Under his leadership, budget writers invested $49.7 million in nursing education – the most ever – to expand nursing education programs in Texas and graduate more registered nurses; and 

• When the Driver Responsibility Program – a primary source of funding for designated trauma facilities that provide millions in uncompensated care – was at risk of being eliminated, Hinojosa worked to find a compromise. The resulting agreement addressed the issues of surcharges on low-income individuals while protecting the program’s integrity and leaving the trauma safety net intact.  

“For 24 years, Sen. Hinojosa has worked tirelessly to serve his district and the people of Texas,” Stultz said. “Texans are fortunate to have such an effective advocate working on their behalf.” 

THA created the Texas Hospital Advocacy Tribute award in 1997 to honor state legislators and other public officials who are highly supportive of issues important to hospitals and health systems. Hinojosa is one of 12 recipients chosen from the 2009 legislative session. He also received the Texas Hospital Advocacy Tribute in 2001

 
Founded in 1930, the Texas Hospital Association is the leadership organization and principal advocate for the state’s hospitals and health care systems. Based in Austin, THA enhances its members’ abilities to improve accessibility, quality and cost-effectiveness of health care for all Texans. One of the largest hospital associations in the country, THA represents more than 85 percent of the state’s acute-care hospitals and health care systems, which employ some 355,000 health care professionals statewide.  

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Valley congressmen, State Department discuss settlement in passports processing of American citizens delivered by midwives and birth attendants

By TENO VILLARREAL 

Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, met on Tuesday, July 21, with officials from the U.S. Department of State to discuss the Castelano v. Clinton settlement agreement, which addresses the unique nature of passport applications involving births delivered by midwives along the southern Texas border and revises the standards in which the State Department will review these passport applications. 

Castelano v. Clinton is a class action lawsuit that claimed the State Department was improperly processing the passport applications of persons whose births were assisted by midwifes or birth attendants in Texas and along the U.S. – Mexico border. Over the years, a large number of midwives and birth attendants filed birth certificates in Texas for people who were not born in the United States. 

However, the lawsuit asserted that this fact did not justify the State Department’s practices for processing these applications. The State Department denied the allegations in June 2009. The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing or an indication that any law was violated. 

The parties have reached a tentative settlement that the court has preliminary approved.  The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing or an indication that any law was violated.  

A hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for August 14, 2009 at 10 a.m. before U.S. Federal Judge Randy Crene, located at 1701 West Business 83, 9th floor, in McAllen. 

“I’m pleased to see the State Department revise their passport standards and provide their employees with training on midwives along the border,” said Cuellar. “For too long, we’ve lacked a uniform standard to review these applications. Today’s meeting shows how committed the State Department is towards improving this process for our South Texas communities.” 

Under the new standards, the State Department will handle passport applications involving midwives in a fair and timelier way, and senior-level employees will review the applications after being extensively trained on the circumstances unique to midwife delivery along the southern U.S. border. The State Department believes this training will create a unified standard for their employees to fairly review midwife applications. 

“The new procedures should benefit my constituents who have endured increased scrutiny based on external factors during their application process,” Ortiz said. “I am confident this settlement will bring peace of mind to many of my constituents as we work to better serve them and I will continue to monitor the progress of the new procedures to ensure that the needs of our community are properly addressed.” 

As a result of the settlement, the State Department will no longer send “filed without further action”  letters or “abandoned” decisions to applicants, and applicants who are denied passports will have an additional 60 days to respond and defend their application. For individuals who previously applied for a U.S. passport between April 8, 2003 and August 14, 2009 they can now reapply without paying the $75 application fee. 

“This is a positive development for so many citizens, especially those along the border, who have had to travel hundreds of miles to Houston for help with their passport applications.” said Hinojosa.  “I am committed to working together with my colleagues in Congress to establish an office in deep South Texas, preferably in Brownsville or McAllen, where our constituents can find the help and support they need to fulfill their requirements for a passport.  This is vitally important in our border communities where trade and commerce have been adversely impacted.” 

To review the new State Department passport procedures please visit: http://travel.state.gov/passport/lawsuit/lawsuit_4525.html 

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Federal bill filed by Congressman Hinojosa to enhance economic development along the border

By TENO VILLARREAL 

On Friday, July 17, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Charles González, D-San Antonio, introduced H.R. 3252, the Hinojosa-González North American Development Bank Reform Bill.  

The legislation would enable the governments of the United States and Mexico to negotiate a new agreement for the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and the North American Development Bank (NADB) that would allow a wider range of projects to be funded by the agencies.  

“Things are quite different along the border today as opposed to when the agreement was originally put in place” said Hinojosa. “The needs of the area have changed dramatically over the years and the environmental restrictions enforced by the agreement have proven to be an impediment to the kind of economic development projects the area should be implementing.  This is a great next step for the NADBank.” 

Currently, only programs that enhance the infrastructure that promotes a clean, healthy environment for the citizens of the region are permitted under the agreement.  The legislation will allow for a renegotiation that could lead to additional projects being considered.  These types of projects include those for economic development, telecommunications, transportation, among other areas. 

“The North American Development Bank has been highly successful at helping border communities with critical infrastructure projects,” said González. “By expanding the scope of NADBank’s authority, we can build on that record of success and bring improvements to border communities across the country.” 

Jorge C. Garcés, Managing Director, North American Development Bank, said “We are pleased to know there is the confidence among key stakeholders to have the NADBank do more for the border region.  The Bank’s management stands ready to carry out the policies set forth by the governments of the U.S. and Mexico with regard to its mandate.” 

The North American Development Bank (NADB) is a binational financial institution capitalized and governed equally by the United States and Mexico for the purpose of financing environmental projects certified by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC). The two institutions work together with communities and project sponsors in both countries to develop and finance infrastructure necessary for a clean and healthy environment for border residents. 

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Federal probation officer Armando Mora, 36, of Edinburg, charged with drug trafficking and bribery

A United States Probation Officer on Wednesday, July 15, was arrested and charged with drug trafficking and bribery, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced. 

Armando Mora, 36, of Edinburg, assigned to the Rio Grande City office of the United States Probation Office, was scheduled to make an initial appearance before United States Peter Ormsby on Thursday, July 16,  at 10:30 a.m. Mora is accused of of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and bribery. 

A criminal complaint is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.

Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. 

According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Mora received bribe payments from members of a drug trafficking organization to provide sensitive and confidential information from government records. It is alleged before the drug trafficking organization considered hiring drivers for their tractor-trailers to transport its drug loads, it would provide personal information – full name, commercial driver’s license number and date of birth – to Mora, who in turn would obtain confidential and sensitive information from government sources about whether the prospective driver was on probation or supervised release or had any outstanding arrest warrants.  

If Mora reported no such warrants or supervision, the drivers would be hired.  

On the other hand, the complaint alleges that on at least two occasions in May and June 2009, Mora allegedly advised the drug organization not to hire three drivers telling a member of the drug trafficking organization that two of the drivers were undercover agents and the third was one of his own supervisees and and an FBI informant. In June 2009, Mora is alleged to have received $5,000 from a member of the drug trafficking organization for providing the confidential information regarding the third driver. 

During the time period in which Mora is alleged to have provided information -– February 2009 to June 2009 – about drivers to transport drug loads for the organization, investigating agents seized approximately 2,000 kilograms of marijuana and 335 kilograms of cocaine. 

The charged drug trafficking offense carries a punishment of no less than 10 years up to life imprisonment and millions of dollars in fines, upon conviction. The bribery charge carries a maximum punishment of 15 years imprisonment and thousands in fines. 

The investigation leading to the charges against Mora was initiated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February 2009 and continued as a joint effort with the FBI.        

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Linda Requenes-Rossborough and Anibal J. Alaniz. 

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Sen. Hutchison pushes to allow prisons to block inmate calls from cell phones smuggled into facility

By JEFF SADOSKY 

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on Wednesday, July 15, during a Commerce Committee hearing, pushed to allow prisons to block calls from smuggled inmate cellular phones.  

Hutchison earlier this year introduced bipartisan legislation, the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 (S. 251), that would prevent prison inmates from using smuggled cellular phones by allowing states to petition to operate wireless jamming devices in particular correctional facilities. 

“We are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of ongoing criminal enterprises orchestrated from prison via cell phones including drug trafficking, credit card fraud, and identity theft,” said Hutchison. “A single phone can be shared among numerous inmates, and just a few phones inside a prison can lead to coordinated attacks on guards and facilitate escape attempts. Cell phones have also been used to carry out threats and brutal attacks against the public. When a single call can result in someone’s death, we have an obligation to exhaust every technology at our disposal.” 

Hutchison noted one of the witnesses testifying at the July 15 hearing, State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was threatened by a death row inmate who used a smuggled cell phone to make threatening calls. The smuggled phone was later found, but officers found eleven additional phones belonging to other death row inmates while looking for it. In 2008, corrections systems across the country reported large numbers of confiscated phones. California reported nearly 3,000 phones found with inmates, while Mississippi had nearly 2,000. The Federal Bureau of prisons reports they confiscated more than 1,600 phones during 2008. 

Hutchison’s bill preserves the general prohibition against intentional interference with wireless communications, but creates a process for correctional facilities to seek a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate a wireless jamming device. The bill does not grant this authority outright, instead it directs the FCC to conduct a robust rulemaking in which it considers whether it is in the public interest to allow limited waivers, and under what circumstances. The Commission will also be directed to conduct a device approval process that ensures that devices operate with the lowest possible power output and include other interference mitigating measures. Each correctional facility would then have to apply individually for the ability to deploy jamming technology. Even after a waiver is granted, there are protections against interference outside of a prison. Equipment must be immediately disengaged while the FCC investigates upon receiving an allegation of interference. 

“Just one call that slips through and leads to another death is not acceptable when we have the technology to prevent the use of contraband phones entirely,” Hutchison said. “We put criminals in prison to end their ability to commit crimes and terrorize the public. We cannot look away knowing full well that no matter how hard our dedicated law enforcement and corrections professionals work to stop them, contraband phones will get into prisons and be used to commit unspeakable acts. We have to find a way to stop their use.” 

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South Texas College may benefit from President Obama’s new federal community college initiative

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR 

President Barack Obama recently announced a new $12 billion national proposal to provide community colleges the facilities and funds needed to spur a new generation of highly-skilled, innovative Americans, as well as to provide retraining for new income sources for displaced workers. 

“The hard truth is that some of the jobs that have been lost in the auto industry and elsewhere won’t be coming back,” said Obama. “They are casualties of a changing economy. And that only underscores the importance of generating new businesses and industries to replace the ones we’ve lost, and of preparing our workers to fill the jobs they create.” 

Under the terms of the American Graduation Initiative, which must be approved by Congress, funds would be provided to modernize community college facilities and to create “a new on-line, open-source clearing house of courses,” which would allow more people to enroll in online courses to be taken and completed at the time and location of their choosing. 

“We need to credit Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Mercedes) and Congressman (Henry) Cuellar (D-Laredo/McAllen) for all of their efforts in bringing community colleges and the opportunities they afford to the national spotlight,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, South Texas College president. “It is great to have the Obama Administration recognize the critical role we are going to play in providing the education and workforce training necessary to help our graduates compete for and fill the jobs of the future.”    

Currently more than six million Americans attend a community college and of those, more than 23,000 live in Hidalgo and Starr counties. 

“This announcement is great news for students and families across the country,” said Hinojosa. “It moves us forward toward the goal of increasing the accessibility and affordability of higher education for all Americans. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure this initiative becomes a reality. I will work with Congressman Solomon Ortiz (D-Corpus Christi) and Congressman Henry Cuellar to help a consortium of community colleges throughout South Texas prepare, apply, and succeed in competing for the grant monies available through this new initiative. 

“The American Graduation Initiative is going to help our community produce and train a workforce that is ready for the new economic realities we face,” Hinojosa added. “Community colleges can play a significant role in making the American dream a reality for those willing to work for it.” 

The ultimate goal of the plan is for five million more Americans to graduate from community colleges by 2020, pushing the nation to exceeding all others in the world in its number of college graduates. South Texas College has been working hard to increase its own graduation attainment, as signaled by its historic spring 2009 commencement celebrating the graduation of more than 2,300 students. 

“We are gearing up for an enrollment of approximately 24,000 credit students for the fall 2009 semester,” said Juan E. Mejia, vice president for academic affairs at STC. “The institution, through genuine partnerships with local school districts and economic development corporations, has a strong focus on preparing the workforce needed by business and industry and by others exploring relocation to South Texas. Although enrollment is indeed a key performance indicator, graduation and seamless transfer are paramount to a more competitive region.”     

For more information about South Texas College visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu or call 956-872-8311. 

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Summer program at UT-Pan American helps migrant students get a head start

By AMANDA PÉREZ 

The University of Texas-Pan American recently was host to the Migrant University Summer Experience for the second consecutive summer. MUSE served up to 100 rising Rio Grande Valley junior and senior migrant students. 

 “This is a great opportunity to experience university life and to learn about valuable resources offered at the university,” said Jeanette Broshears, associate dean of students. 

MUSE was created in 2008 to offer migrant students the opportunity to gain university level experience, while attaining two high school credits. Some are given the opportunity to earn college credit. In addition, students received on-campus college residential experience, paid professional workplace internships and college readiness and leadership seminars. 

“All classes are selected for students based on the request of their respective counselors and all internships are based on the student’s strengths and requests,” Broshears said. 

For students like Donna High School senior Rubén Hernández, this was a great opportunity to get ahead in classes, get paid and have fun while doing it. 

“I have had fun working in the Student Union, meeting new people and getting ahead,” Hernández said. “Knowing that I won’t have to worry about some classes my senior year is a great feeling as well.” 

If not for the MUSE summer program, Hernández would be in South Carolina with his family working in the tobacco fields. 

Harlingen High School South senior Rebecca Mendoza also agrees that it has been a great summer experience and encourages others to take advantage of the program. 

“I’ve taken classes, lived in the dorms and worked in the Student Union, so now I know what to expect during college,” Mendoza said. “It is good to know that people care about migrant students and give us these opportunities.” 

To wrap up the summer, MUSE participants can look forward to traveling parts of Texas to visit St. Edwards University, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and The University of Texas at San Antonio. A pit stop at Fiesta Texas is also in route. All is followed by a graduation ceremony to mark the completion of the program. 

For more information about MUSE, contact Broshears at 956/381-2899. 

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Congressman Cuellar votes for bill to invest in expansion of small business development centers

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, July 16, voted in support of H.R. 3170, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2010, which protects consumers, strengthens financial oversight institutions and invests in community small business programs. The bill also includes substantial funds to enhance America’s commerce by repairing land ports of entry and includes $110 million for small business development centers nationwide. 

“When we invest in our small businesses, we invest in our communities,” said Cuellar. “By supporting small businesses we preserve that entrepreneurial spirit that’s unique to America.” 

The Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act includes $848 million in small business administration programs to assist small business owners and disadvantaged communities. The bill makes significant investments towards America’s economic development, including $8.5 billion to support the General Services Administration Federal Buildings Fund which oversees the nation’s land ports of entry, including several along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“Our land ports of entry are vital to national security and invigorate our nation’s trade,” said Cuellar. “Thousands of trucks come through Laredo everyday and we have infrastructure needs that need to be addressed. I’m pleased to see this funding modernize all of our land ports of entry and ensure the essential flow of commerce and trade.” 

H.R. 3170 passed the House Thursday by a vote of 219-208 and supports a wide-range of efforts to promote business development, protect American consumers and communities nationwide. The bill supports the Office of National Drug Control Policy and provides $248 million to help federal, state and local law enforcement combat drug-trafficking in high-intensity areas. It also includes $98 million in grants for local community-based coalitions who work to reduce youth drug abuse, and $103 million to safeguard the nation’s financial system against drug traffickers, money launderers, terrorism financiers and other criminals. 

Additionally, the bill makes needed investments in financial oversight institutions like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which protects consumers by detecting and investigating fraudulent financial schemes. 

In recognizing the challenging economic situation, Cuellar added a cost-savings amendment to H.R. 3170 which prohibits government agencies, funded by the bill, from purchasing first-class travel arrangements unless certain exemptions apply under law. 

“There has never been a more important time to cut costs and reduce waste,” said Cuellar. “Americans are cutting back in all aspects of their lives and first-class travel must take a backseat. 

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Ten years of remarkable success: Texas Housing Bootstrap Program, created by Sen. Lucio

By JOHN HENNEBERGER  

Ten years ago, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, authored and passed legislation that has resulted in hundreds of affordable homes built in Texas and has served as an example of what can be accomplished with inspiration, ingenuity and modest state funding. 

Most importantly, Senate Bill 1287 showed us that successful, affordable housing programs recognize the dreams and aspirations of the poor and create a way so they can help themselves realize their dreams. The legislation established and created the Texas Bootstrap Loan Program. This initiative, administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), was designed to promote and enhance homeownership opportunities for very low-income Texans. SB 1287 required the Department to establish a new and innovative mortgage loan program. 

Today, through this program, certified nonprofit organizations work alongside low-income Texas families to build simple, single-family homes they can afford. The families contribute 60 percent of the “self-help” labor toward building a new home or rehabilitating an existing home that is broken and worn down by poverty. While the sweat equity families contribute dramatically drives down the cost of construction, the Department provides a zero-interest mortgage loan that families can afford. 

The Texas Bootstrap Loan Program is required under the Texas Government Code to make $3 million available through the Housing Trust Fund for mortgage loans to very low-income families (60% Area Median Family Income). The state loan cannot exceed $30,000 per home, and all combined loans, including the state loan and other private sources, cannot exceed $60,000 per home. 

This year we supported, and the Texas Legislature enacted, changes to the Bootstrap Program through SB 679 that allows the maximum loan to increase from $30,000 to $45,000, and the maximum value of the house to increase from $60,000 to $90,000.  These changes are necessary to keep up with land and building material cost increases over the past decade. 

The Housing Trust Fund constitutes the state’s only funding for affordable homes. Of the far too meager funds the Legislature appropriates, the majority of the Housing Trust Fund has historically been designated to allow the Bootstrap Program to flourish in the poorest parts of our state. The Department is required to allocate at least two-thirds of the $3 million for families whose properties are located in Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) counties. 

Texans pride themselves on their ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in times of adversity. For ten years, the Bootstrap Program has illustrated this sentiment, becoming a national model of how with state support, even the lowest income families can pick up a hammer and nails and begin building a great asset: their home. Since the inception of the Program, TDHCA has expended more than $20 million dollars and helped 859 families.  The average annual household income of a participant under this Program is $18,340. 

A decade ago, Sen. Lucio championed the seemingly impossible: a program that allows the poorest among us to build a home, and to live their lives in decency and with security. Perhaps this feat seems even more impossible today, as low- and middle-income families across the nation are crippled under the weight of homes they cannot afford, and countless are facing foreclosure. Yet the Bootstrap Program shines on as an example of how state funding and legislative ingenuity can let the American Dream thrive, even in our poorest communities. 

The Bootstrap Program builds. It builds homes. It builds hope. And it builds more investment in affordable homes.  

In the last 10 years, nonprofit organizations that have partnered with TDHCA through the Program have leveraged more than $20 million with other funding sources such as private lending institutions and units of local government for the Bootstrap Program. Considering that the Housing Trust Fund, which supports the Bootstrap Program, has historically only been funded at about $3 to $5 million per year, this is impressive. 

As we celebrate the establishment of the Bootstrap Program, we should also be mindful of the vast potential for this program, which would be possible by a funding increase to the Housing Trust Fund. Thank you to Sen. Lucio and the Legislature for supporting the Bootstrap Program and the Housing Trust Fund. Thanks to TDHCA and to the nonprofits that operate the program. More importantly, thank you to all the hardworking families whose sheer determination to own a home has transformed lives and communities across the state. 

Henneberger is the co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. TxLIHIS was founded in 1988 by community leaders, housing providers, and low-income people who subscribe to the national goal of decent, affordable housing for all Americans and who believe there must be an organized, concerted effort to achieve that goal in Texas. TxLIHIS is Texas’ foremost supporter of housing for the poor and for neighborhood preservation, and is one of Texas’ primary source of research on low-income housing. 

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Hidalgo County extends ban on rural outdoor burning through mid-October to reduce the risks of wildfires

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’  Court on Tuesday, July 14, extended for a second time its burn ban, which has been effective since January 28. The 90-day extension will take the burn ban through mid-October.  

A violation of this order is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $500. 

Under a burn ban, outdoor burning is restricted in the unincorporated areas of Hidalgo County, including incorporated cities that do not have their own fire suppression resources. The outdoor burn ban, however, does not prohibit burning activities related to public health and safety that are authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for: 1) firefighter training; 2) public utility, natural gas pipeline or mining operations; 3) planting or harvesting of agricultural crops; or 4) burns that are conducted by a prescribed burn manager under Section 153.047, Natural Resources Code. 

Residential trash burning will be permitted, but only with a burn permit issued the County Fire Marshal’s Office, located at 2814 S. Business 281, Edinburg,Texas. Burn permits are free of charge, but must be obtained in order to burn trash. Residents with questions may call the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s Office at (956) 318-2656, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  

The restriction does not ban outdoor cooking that takes place within a cooking apparatus —  grill, pit, etc. Outdoor burning of any kind is prohibited on any day when a “fire watch” or “red-flag warning” weather advisory is issued by the National Weather Service. This burn ban can be revoked at any time should conditions improve. 

“Conditions are just as bad or worse than last year,” said A.A. Tony Peña Jr., Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Marshal. “It’s a tinderbox out there, but for whatever reason — either heightened awareness and preventative measures or sheer coincidence — we have not experienced the fires like we had last year in Hidalgo County. With the burn ban, we hope to keep fire prevention on the minds of our residents. The only thing that will stop fire season is a hard rain or tropical event.”  

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Sen. Hutchison files legislation to encourage local governments to expand access to high-speed Internet

By JEFF SADOSKY 

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on Tuesday, July 14, introduced legislation to engage the private sector and encourage investment in the deployment of broadband, also known as high-speed Internet. 

“Too many of our communities and small businesses still lack access to broadband infrastructure, and many that have access do not subscribe to the services that are offered. In both cases, communities that lack adequate broadband availability face the prospect of lagging behind other areas in education, economic growth, and even health care delivery,” said Hutchison.  

“Broadband deployment is a national priority requiring a comprehensive approach that encourages private sector investment in our unserved areas and reform of existing federal programs to make sure we are spending scarce public resources in the most effective way," she added. "We must also take steps to increase adoption of broadband technology by individuals, educational institutions, small businesses, and health care providers. My legislation provides this framework and allows local communities to play a bigger role in determining the technology and infrastructure that best suits their needs.” 

The Connecting America Act of 2009 is designed to stimulate investment and economic development activity over the next five years. The legislation creates limited duration tax credits that will encourage companies to make investments that they might otherwise delay due to the economic downturn. Under the bill, targeted incentives will provide companies immediate access to capital and encourage broadband investment to maintain and improve infrastructure where it is need it most. 

The bill would also create a technology-neutral bond program that will allow communities, rather than federal bureaucrats, to raise funds for construction, assess their own infrastructure needs, and adopt the broadband technologies that are most appropriate. The legislation would also reform and streamline the numerous federal programs supporting broadband to focus broadband deployment funding in a coordinated manner. 

The Obama Administration earmarked $7.2 billion for broadband deployment in the stimulus bill. However, the funding was made available before the Federal Communications Commission finished mapping broadband availability or completing a comprehensive national broadband plan. 

“This taxpayer investment must be maximized by directing grants to unserved areas and focusing on community access points. We must approach broadband deployment in a more thoughtful and comprehensive way in the future, and start by meaningfully engaging the investment and expertise of the private sector,” said Hutchison. 

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Attorney General Abbott joins multi-state agreement with drug companies which delayed negative studies

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and 35 other state attorneys general on Wednesday, July 15, reached a multi-million dollar agreement with pharmaceutical manufacturers Merck & Co. Inc., Schering-Plough Corp., and a joint venture between the two companies, MSP Singapore Company, LLC. 

Together, the three manufacturers agreed to pay $5.4 million to resolve the states’ investigation, which examined the manufacturers’ delayed release of negative clinical trial results. Texas will receive $300,000 for its efforts to investigate this matter. 

The manufacturers’  clinical trial indicated that the cholesterol lowering drug Vytorin – which is a combination of the drugs Zetia and simvastatin – was no more effective reducing formation of plaque in carotid arteries than the cheap, generic alternative, simvastatin. Although the study ended in May 2006, complete results were not published until April 2008. In the meantime, the companies heavily promoted Vytorin in direct-to-consumer advertisements. 

The July 15 settlement requires the companies to follow several requirements when promoting Vytorin and Zetia, including: 

  • Obtain pre-approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for all direct-to-consumer television advertisements;
  • Comply with FDA suggestions to modify drug advertising;
  • Register clinical trials and post their results;
  • Prohibit ghost writing of articles;
  • Reduce conflicts of interest for Data Safety Monitoring Boards that ensure the safety of participants in clinical trials; and,
  • Comply with detailed rules prohibiting the deceptive use of clinical trials. 

The investigation was led by Oregon Attorney General John R. Kroger and an Executive Committee including the Attorneys General of Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and the District of Columbia. 

The 36 states participating in the July 15 agreement are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. 

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Roger Garza voted chairman of McAllen Public Utilities Board of Trustees

By BRIAN GODÍNEZ 

Roger Garza was unanimously voted in as the new chairman of the McAllen Public Utility Board of Trustees by his peers at the Tuesday, July 14 regular PUB board meeting.  

Garza will oversee the functions of the utility board as well as lead the agenda of the meetings.  

Garza was elected to the board in 1999. He is a professional risk management consultant and CEO for Valley Risk Management Consulting.        

Commenting on the years of service and his new leadership position as chairman, Garza said, “I want to thank my fellow board members for their confidence in me. I also want to complete the task that I started when I first got elected to the board, and that is the final expansion of the largest utility system south of San Antonio and the expansion of the Northwest McAllen Wastewater Treatment facility”.

During Garza’s term of service, the city has been upgraded by Standards & Poors (S&P) bond rating, the second highest in the country. This has occurred twice since Garza has served on the board.  

Also during his tenure, McAllen has been recognized for Quality Water Optimization, and ranked 4th lowest water rates in the state of Texas. The operating budget has been balanced every year and increased capacity at both water plants to almost 38 million gallons a day. In addition, the PUB has replaced all operating equipment with state-of-the-art technology and equipment.

“We have continued to be fiscally responsible every year since serving on the board. We wish to thank the public for its confidence in our operating systems and also for trusting me during these last several years.”  

The Board of Trustees of the McAllen Public Utility was created on February 2, 1945 to oversee all aspects of water and sewer for the City of McAllen. The board consists of four members elected at large by place, in a citywide election for four-year terms and one ex-officio member appointed by the mayor.  

The Public Utility Board of the City of McAllen meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, convening at 4:00 p.m. at the City Commission Chambers on the 3rd floor. For more information visit the web site at http://www.mcallen.net/mpu/board.aspx

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UT-Austin mourns passing of Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite, longtime reporter and news anchor, died July 17, 2009, at the age of 92. 

Cronkite attended The University of Texas at Austin in the 1930s and worked as a student reporter at The Daily Texan. His papers reside with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the university. 

"Walter Cronkite defined broadcast journalism in the 20th century," said William Powers Jr., president of the university. "He set the standard for honesty and integrity, and he remains an enduring symbol of credibility in news reporting. No one will ever match his deeply resonant voice of authority, wisdom and gravity. For decades, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted source of news for Americans from all walks of life. 

"Throughout his life, Walter Cronkite remained deeply connected to The University of Texas at Austin. We have lost one of our most treasured, honored and accomplished native sons," Powers said. 

The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin is home to the personal papers of Walter Cronkite, one of the twentieth century’s most eminent pioneers and leaders in television broadcast news. The Walter Cronkite Papers, consisting of 293 linear feet, cover the noted CBS newsman’s more than five-decades-long career as one of the nation’s most respected journalists. Materials begin with Cronkite’s early life in Houston and his student days at The University of Texas at Austin and include his work as a correspondent for the United Press International covering World War II and the Nuremberg war crimes trial. The majority of the papers, however, deal with his career with CBS News from 1950 through his retirement in 1981 as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. 

The Cronkite Papers include research files, audio and video recordings and clippings on news events of the 1960s and 1970s, with a special emphasis on space exploration and politics; presidential nominating conventions; mail from viewers, representing opinions about current events from the 1950s to 1980s; personal correspondence with well-known figures, many in the news business; television and radio production materials from CBS news series Cronkite reported such as You are There, Twentieth Century, Eyewitness to History, and CBS Reports; and Cronkite’s appearances, narrations, and speeches, business interests, awards, and personal life, especially his boats, travel, and organizations with which Cronkite was associated. Other materials include scripts and outlines, memos, and source materials for documentary productions by the Cronkite Ward Company and Cronkite Productions, Inc. The Cronkite Papers also include a number of photographs that document Cronkite’s early life and his reportage from World War II and Vietnam, as well as his interviews with U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. 

The relationship between Walter Cronkite and the Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin was forged in 1988, when the legendary CBS newsman, a University student in the 1930s, returned as an honors seminar guest lecturer for the College of Communication. During Cronkite’s visit, Dr. Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, invited him to donate his papers to the University’s archives. The Cronkite collection has become the bedrock of the News Media History archives at the Center, considered one of the most important archives in existence covering the history of television journalism. 

In 1990, nine years after retiring from broadcast journalism, Cronkite turned to Carleton for assistance in recording his memoirs. Over the next three years, Carleton interviewed Cronkite extensively, resulting in an in-depth oral history of several hundred pages. Cronkite relied on the oral history to write his autobiography, A Reporter’s Life, which was published in 1996. The taped memoirs, now part of the Walter Cronkite Papers, was equally important to the creation of the eight-part television series Cronkite Remembers, broadcast on The Discovery Channel. For that project, the Center and Cronkite entered into another collaboration, with Carleton serving as the historical advisor to the series. 

As a newsman, one of Cronkite’s proudest achievements was that of anchoring CBS News coverage of the space program, from the early days of the Mercury program and continuing through the Gemini and the Apollo eras. Indeed, he reported on every major event in the "space race" between the United States and the Soviet Union. Cronkite’s reporting on space exploration brought him and the Center together again on February 28, 2006, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recognized Cronkite’s singular journalistic achievements in this arena. Michael Coats, director of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, presented Cronkite with the Ambassador of Exploration Award, making him the first non-astronaut ever so honored. 

The moon rock NASA gave to Cronkite was taken from the 842 pounds of lunar samples brought back to Earth during six Apollo expeditions to the moon between 1969 and 1972. Cronkite in turn presented the moon rock to University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, who accepted it on behalf of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Speaking at the event, Dr. Carleton said, "We are deeply honored by Walter Cronkite’s decision to entrust this prestigious award to the Center for American History."  

He added, "The Center already serves as the proud steward of his professional and personal papers, which include his coverage of the space program for CBS News. It is especially fitting that the archive documenting Walter’s distinguished career should also include one of the Moon rocks that the heroic astronauts of the Apollo program brought to Earth."

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