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Roberto Hugo González, publisher of Texas Border Business and Mega Metropolis Health & Fitness, has picked up two key recognitions for his publishing endeavors and his excellence in journalism in the pursuit of public service. During the McAllen South Rotary Club Annual Officer Installation Banquet, held on Wednesday, June 24, González proudly displays the Paul Harris Fellow Award and pin bestowed upon him by the McAllen Rotary Club. The award is given to those who have given outstanding service and is the highest prestigious award recognition given to a fellow Rotarian. In late spring, González was selected as the 2009 Small Business Journalist of the Year in the Rio Grande Valley by the U.S. Small Business Administration. He received the prestigious SBA award during at a ceremony at the University of Texas-Pan American Annex in Edinburg on Thursday, April 30. See story later in this posting.

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Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, featured with former Mexican President Vicente Fox and his wife, former Mexican First Lady Marta Sahagún de Fox during a March 27 gathering at the University of Texas at San Antonio,  is now vice-chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI). Cuellar was voted in by the CHLI Board of Directors at its Thursday, July 9, private meeting. The Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI, pronounced “chili”) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., that advances the diversity of thought in the U.S. Hispanic community in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, as well as in the international community. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Sunday, May 31, was commissioned as a major in the Texas State Guard during a swearing-in ceremony held on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The Edinburg attorney, 50, is using his legislative and legal skills as a Staff Judge Advocate serving in the Command Headquarters in Austin, helping protect the rights of members of the state’s military forces, including the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard. The mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready military forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies, such as hurricanes, as well as to participate in homeland security and community service missions. Major General Chris Powers administered the oath for the commission directed by Governor Perry and the Adjutant General. Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio and Brigadier General Raymond Peters joined Peña, his wife, Mónica, and his grandson, Anthony, during the formal event.

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Nicolas "Nico" Palacios Jr., 62 – featured right in this November 2007 file photo – a longtime Edinburg business leader who also excelled in the world of local and state politics, passed away on Thursday, July 23, at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, California. The cause of death was reported as a heart attack. Palacios, seen here speaking with Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg, was part of a renowned South Texas political family which not only greatly influences local and state elections, but from its ranks has produced elected officials, community advocates, doctors, lawyers, and business leaders. Three of his siblings are also well-recognized leaders in South Texas: Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio "Terry" Palacios and Fred Palacios, a longtime member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board of directors, are among his brothers; Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios of Edinburg is one of his sisters. In addition, Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr., a former Edinburg city councilmember, and Omar Palacios, the president of the Edinburg school board, are among his nephews. See obituary later in this posting.

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Edinburg, Doctors Hospital begin negotiations on planned $14 million medical conference center

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

With McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling – who also serves as general counsel for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance – waiting in the audience at City Hall, the Edinburg City Council on Wednesday, July 22, instructed City Manager J.J. Rodríguez to begin work on a possible deal to help the local hospital system cover some of the costs for DHR’s planned $14 million Edinburg Medical Conference Center.

The Edinburg Medical Conference Center would be owned by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

The conference center is being promoted by DHR leaders as an economic development resource for Edinburg on several fronts, not just with projections by hospital leaders that it would create 293 jobs in South Texas, but also as a medical education and performing arts center.

The decision to begin negotiations with hospital officials came after the city council – as allowed by state law – went behind closed doors to figure out what kind of help they are willing to offer DHR leaders, who are ready to build the proposed 54,000-square-foot Edinburg Medical Conference Center.

Rodríguez, who confirmed he will be principal negotiator with Darling, said he was not yet at liberty to reveal too many details regarding what the city may or may not offer DHR leaders.

"Doctors Hospital has run its (financial) numbers, we just need to determine how those numbers are made up, look too see it is infrastructure-related, or just for construction," Rodríguez explained. "It will be very similar to what occurs with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, where they negotiate based on the nature of the request."

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the city council, and has at its disposal a treasury of several million dollars – public money generated from the collection of a one-half economic development sales tax – which could be tapped for the Edinburg Medical Conference Center.

The five-member board of directors for the EEDC is appointed by the city council, with the exception of the mayor, who is guaranteed a seat on the governing board under the bylaws that created the EEDC.

"At some point, it will come back to the city council for ratification, based on my negotiations," Rodríguez said.

Darling, who was not allowed into the closed door session, expressed confidence that an agreement between the city and DHR will materialize – and quickly.

"I think (the negotations) will be pretty simple. The city attorney (Ricardo González) is away right now, but we have already spoken about it," said Darling. "When he gets back, I think that won’t be a very tough process at all."

Once an agreement is finalized, "knowing how we do things at Doctors Hospital, the construction period will take place real fast," Darling predicted.

The planned conference center would be located on the east campus of the DHR complex, which is bordered by South McColl Road and Owassa Road in southwest Edinburg.

The Edinburg Medical Conference Center is set to join The Women’s Hospital at Renaissance, the Renaissance Behavioral Center, and the Cancer Center at Renaissance, along with a major medical office center, on the east campus.

"It is going to be beneficial in multiple ways," explained Laura Nassri Warren, AIA, of The Warren Group Architects, Inc. of McAllen, who is designing the conference center.

Warren was with Darling in the audience when the city council went behind closed doors and after they returned into open session, when city leaders announced their decision to try to strike a development deal with Doctors Hospital.

"We are going to be providing a venue to continue education for the medical community, we are providing a state-of-the-art facility that will allow the medical community to continue to grow with something that currently doesn’t exist in the Valley, but is very much needed," Warren said after the city council meeting.

The Edinburg Medical Conference Center will feature an auditorium with a performance arts capability, conference rooms, a board room, a catering kitchen facility, according to Warren.

Depending on the configuration of the rooms, up to 800 people could be accommodated in the ballroom, which would be the largest component in the two-story facility.

Conference rooms will be able to hold more than 250 persons.

All rooms will feature world-class visual and audio technology systems.

According to the plan unveiled by DHR earlier this spring, the planned Edinburg Medical Conference Center would also bring these additional advantages to the area:

  • Provide a venue to the medical community to inform and educate South Texans of medical resources available in the region;
  • Support health awareness programs with a state-of-the-art medical campus; 
  • Enhance medical education program growth by partnering with local universities and colleges; and
  • Provide a venue to promote the creation of educational opportunities in medical, nursing, and research programs.

Warren said much of the crucial advance work already has been done by DHR.

"The preliminary design or the strategic planning has taken place.  Then all of the detailing is what follows," she said. "That usually takes about, fast-track, two to three months what usually takes about four to six months to plan. We are working at a very fast pace. Then we are looking at an eight to ten months construction time."

If all goes well, she said, it could take between 13 and 14 months from the date an agreement is reached with the city government until the Edinburg Medical Conference Center is open for business.

McAllen construction magnate Alonzo Cantú, who serves on the board of directors for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, confirmed that the medical conference center project – along with a pediatric tower addition to the main hospital – already qualified to apply for state enterprise zone tax credits.

Cantú made his observations earlier that day, during a function at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance honoring Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, for the veteran lawmaker’s vital role during the legislative session in promoting issues important to hospitals and medical patients statewide.

Under the Texas Enterprise Zone Program – which was created in the mid-1980s by then-Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Hector Uribe, D-Brownsville – eligible projects can get state sales tax breaks in exchange for bringing new construction and jobs to areas of high unemployment.

Given the projected private investment and number of jobs that are resulting from the pediatric tower and the planned medical conference center, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance may be able to qualify for almost $1.3 million in state sales tax breaks.

The local economy will be a big winner as a result of the enterprise zone designation.

"The Texas Enterprise Zone helps us create more jobs, good-paying jobs that offer benefits like insurance," said Cantú.

In addition to the medical conference center, Cantú said that the prospect of building a hotel with up to 100 rooms to help house conference participants — as well as to  – as well as to allow out-of-town families to be near their loved ones when they are hospitalized – remains very much in the picture.

"We are still working on that, to figure out what kind of hotel, such as an extended-stay hotel, and determine how many rooms would be required," Cantú said. "It would be close to the medical conference center."

Another possible source of city funding could come from almost $5 million still sitting in a city account that is restricted for use on medical-related projects, since so far, the city leadership has ruled out the use of local sales taxes – in the form of tax breaks – to help DHR in this project.

That money, officially designated as the Restricted Medical Authority Appropriations Fund, represents principal that remains plus interest that has been generated from the sale in the 1990s of the former city-owned Edinburg General Hospital to Universal Health Services, Inc.

UHS was allowed to purchase the former city-owned hospital in exchange for building the $25 million Edinburg Regional Medical Center – which is part of a system of other hospitals in Edinburg and McAllen which compete against Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

Edinburg has previously tapped into the Restricted Medical Authority Appropriations Fund.

In November 2002, Mayor Joe Ochoa, authorized by a different city council, presented a $1 million check drawn from that account to the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. In exchange for that local financial contribution, the UT System authorized the creation of the $20 million Regional Academic Health Center, an advanced biomedical research center, located immediately next to UT-Pan American.

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Operation Lone Star to provide free medical care July 27-31 for Hidalgo County residents, say Rep. Martínez, Rep. Flores

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Operation Lone Star, which provided health care to more than 11,000 South Texas residents in just two weeks last year, is expanding this summer to provide free health clinics in San Juan and Peñitas from Monday, July 27 through Friday, July 31.

All residents from Hidalgo County are eligible to go to either of those two sites, which will be in operation at PSJA High School, 805 W. Ridge Road in San Juan, and at Dr. Javier Sáenz Middle School, located at 39200 Mile 7 Road in Peñitas.

PSJA High School is located in the legislative district of Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, while Dr. Javier Sáenz Middle School is located in the legislative district of Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.

Military personnel, state and county officials and hundreds of volunteers will provide free health services at those locations, plus in Brownsville, Raymondville, Lasara, Laredo, Hebbronville, Rio Grande City and Zapata during portions of the next two weeks.

The events are a joint project of the state health and human services agencies, Texas State Guard, Army and Air National Guard, county health departments, local service groups and civilian volunteers. Operation Lone Star covers seven counties."

Operation Lone Star sites at PSJA High School and at Dr. Javier Sáenz Middle School will provide care from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, July 27 through July 30, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, July 31. For more information, call 2-1-1.

Both state lawmakers said the free medical care is available to anyone, and not just to persons with limited income.

"It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, there will be outstanding doctors and nurses – and even dentists – who serve in the Texas military who will be at these sites to examine you, help get you better, give you needed medicines, answer any medical questions, and let you know what other resources are available to help protect your precious health," said Martínez.

Flores agreed, calling Operation Lone Star "a life-saving mission of mercy.

"Every step has been taken to make it as easy as possible for Hidalgo County residents to receive free medical care," Flores noted. "Even if a person does not have a photo I.D., they will provide you with the medical care. This is the largest humanitarian effort of its kind in the United States. They only questions they will ask will be about your health."

Albert Hawkins, the executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services, said Operation Lone Star will have many benefits for the region.

“People turn out for free medical services, and we also tell them about state programs that will provide year-round access to health care,” said Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins. “Operation Lone Star provides us with an excellent way to reach out to Texans who can benefit from our services.”

State health and human services workers will provide information about health and wellness programs to prevent substance abuse, help people with disabilities and protect vulnerable children and adults. Local nonprofit organizations also will have staff available to provide information about their services.

“Every year, we see thousands of people along the border take advantage of this program,” said Leonel Vela of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. “For some, it may be their only visit with a doctor all year. That means the information about state services could ultimately be as important to these families as the medical care they receive.”

Operation Lone Star also serves as a way for state and local officials to train for a medical emergency. Setting up the two-week, multi-site clinics becomes a real-time exercise on how to respond to a public health crisis.

Operation Lone Star Sites for July 27–31

  • Brownsville: Raúl A. Besteiro Middle School, 6280 Southmost Road
  • La Joya: Dr. Javier Sáenz Middle School, 39200 Mile 7 Road, Peñitas
  • Raymondville: Raymondville High School, 1 Bearkat Blvd.
  • San Juan: PSJA High School, 805 W. Ridge Road

Operation Lone Star Sites for Aug. 3–7

  • Laredo: Louis J. Christen Middle School, 2001 Santa Maria Ave.
  • Rio Grande City: Fort Ringgold Middle School, Fort Ringgold Campus
  • Hebbronville: Hebbronville High School, 210 Longhorn Lane

Operation Lone Star Mobile Site for July 29

  • Lasara: Lasara Community Center, 6276 6th Street

Operation Lone Star Mobile Site for Aug. 4–5

  • Zapata: Zapata Community Center, 607 N. Hwy 83
  • Dagoberto Garza contributed to this article.

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Legislative Budget Board approved $5 million in funding for I-69 corridor study, says Sen. Hinojosa

 

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS

The Texas Legislative Budget Board has reviewed and approved a request for $5 million for TxDOT to enter into a comprehensive development agreement (CDA) through which a successful developer can produce a master development plan and master financial plan for the I-69 project.

The development and financial plans comprise a regional study to determine the scope of work required to bring the I-69 corridor concept to fruition. The study includes US Highways 77 and 281, the two existing highways running from South Texas, through the Coastal Bend, and beyond.

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a central figure in securing funding for expansion of north-south arteries to and from South Texas and the Coastal Bend, commented on the announcement.

"Earlier this year, we learned of TxDOT’s dedication to bring Highways 77 and 281 up to interstate standards. Chairwoman Deidre Delisi worked with us every step of the way to make sure these concepts become a reality for South Texas," Hinojosa said.

The master development plan will focus on upgrading and utilizing existing roadways and infrastructure to designate I-69.  The plans contemplate a regional infrastructure upgrade, integrating South Texas and the Coastal Bend to the rest of Texas.

The I-69 corridor would connect South Texas and the Corpus Christi area to Houston and East Texas via Highway 59.  Despite the rapid growth and flow of commerce through South Texas, the region lacks a true high-volume transportation route.  Such a route is vital not only to future economic growth but it also plays a role in Texas’ Gulf Coast emergency evacuation plan.

Hinojosa noted the need for a major north-south transportation artery for South Texas.

"Continued growth has built up demand for corridors in these regions that can move a larger volume of commerce and people," Hinojosa said. "Also, not least in our minds is the need for infrastructure capable of leading South Texans to safety in the event of a major hurricane."

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Nicolas "Nico" Palacios, Jr., 62, member of renowned South Texas political family, laid to rest in Edinburg

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Nicolas "Nico" Palacios Jr., 62, a longtime Edinburg business leader who also excelled in the world of local and state politics, passed away on Thursday, July 23, at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, California.

The cause of death was reported as a heart attack.

He was buried on Monday, July 27, at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Edinburg, following a mass held earlier that day at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Edinburg. A rosary was held for him on Sunday, July 26, at Memorial Funeral Home, 208 East Canton, in Edinburg.

Palacios was part of a renowned South Texas political family which not only greatly influences local and state elections, but from its ranks has produced elected officials, community advocates, doctors, lawyers, and business leaders.

Palacios was widely viewed as a key strategist and confidante for a slew of political leaders in South Texas, including Mayor Richard García of Edinburg, Carmen González, a member of the Edinburg school board, and Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg, among others. He also played major roles in the public service careers of several family members who are currently in elected or appointed offices.

He is survived by his wife, Frances Palacios, along with seven children: Jaime (Lupita) Palacios of Brownsville; Ricardo (Denise) Palacios; Joseph (Karla) Palacios; Criselda Palacios; Dr. Melva Palacios; Mario Palacios; and Guillermo Palacios; all of Edinburg.

Joseph Palacios is chief administrator for Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sylvia Handy of Weslaco; Dr. Melva Palacios, M.D., served the Edinburg city government as a member of the Edinburg Community Health/Medical Care Advisory Committee, which made recommendations to the city council on where to invest public funds for the development of medical programs and facilities.

Three of his siblings are also well-recognized leaders in South Texas: Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio "Terry" Palacios and Fred Palacios, a longtime member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board of directors, are among his brothers; Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios of Edinburg is one of his sisters.

In addition, Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr., a former Edinburg city councilmember, and Omar Palacios, the president of the Edinburg school board, are among his nephews.

Palacios was preceded in death by a son, Nicolas Santos Palacios; his father, Nicolas Palacios Sr.; and a brother, Ernesto Palacios. 

Palacios was born in Parkin, Arkansas and had lived in Edinburg most of his life. He was a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Edinburg.

Palacios is survived by his wife, Frances Palacios of Edinburg; seven children, Jaime (Lupita) Palacios of Brownsville, Ricardo (Denise) Palacios, Joseph (Karla) Palacios, Criselda Palacios, Dr. Melva Palacios, Mario Palacios, and Guillermo Palacios, all of Edinburg; 12 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; his mother, Lucía Palacios of Edinburg; four brothers, Fred (María Elena) Palacios, Juan (Rita) Palacios, Judge Terry (Hope) Palacios, all of Edinburg, and René Palacios of Weslaco; six sisters, Teresa (Pedro) Leal of Elsa, Janie (Rodolfo) Zamorano, Olga (Ricardo) Rodríguez, Judge Mary Alice (Pedro) Palacios-Hernández, Julie Ann Palacios and Patricia (Alfredo) Garza, all of Edinburg.

Pallbearers were Federico Palacios, Jr., Rubén Palacios, Juan "Sonny" Palacios, Jr., Omar Palacios, Ernesto Palacios, Jr. and René Palacios. Honorary pallbearers were Joel Carcano, Jr., Pedro Leal, Jr., Rodolfo Zamorano, Jr., Eric Cáceres, Alfredo Garza, Jr., Judge Rodríguez, Jr., 332nd Hidalgo County District Court Judge Mario E. Ramírez, Jr., and Mayor García.

Funeral services were under the direction of Memorial Funeral Home in Edinburg.

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Minimum wage increases to $7.25; final step of promise by Democrats, says Congressman Hinojosa

By TENO VILLARREAL

 

On Friday, July 24, the national minimum wage increased again by 70 cents – from $6.55 per hour to $7.25 per hour – the final of three increases to take effect under legislation enacted by the Democratic Congress.

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, said on July 24 that the increase will help many Americans struggling in these tough economic times.

“Raising the minimum wage was absolutely the right thing to do and I’m proud to see the third increment become a reality. Americans who work hard and play by the rules should earn enough to not only provide for their families, but have their own shot at the American dream” said Hinojosa. “With Friday’s increase, families in Deep South Texas will have additional income to meet their daily living expenses: food, gas, utilities, and more.

“Raising the minimum wage will lead to an increase in consumer spending on a local level.  Those of us in the Congress will continue to look for solutions that will help all Americans improve their economic conditions and those of the communities they live in.”

From 1997 to 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress consistently blocked Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage, Hinojosa added.

"As a result, the purchasing power of the minimum wage reached a 51-year low in 2006," Hinojosa said. "The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, raised the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour in three equal steps."

Some background on the minimum wage increases includes the following highlights:

• A recent study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that every dollar increase in the minimum wage leads to an $800 increase in spending per quarter by families with minimum wage workers;

• The Economic Policy Institute estimated that this increased purchasing power will boost consumer spending by more than $5.5 billion over the next 12 months; and

• Workers in 31 states will see an increase in the minimum wage Friday. Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.  The remaining states already have state minimum wage rates the same or higher than Friday’s new federal rate.

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Texas public school teachers will receive $800 pay raise as part of $2 billion federal recovery fund

By TENO VILLARREAL

The Texas Democratic Congressional Delegation announced on Friday, July 24, that Texas Public School teachers will receive an $800 pay raise through more than $2 billion now available for Texas under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.  The raises will be included in school budgets for this upcoming school year.

This funding will lay the foundation for a generation of education reform and help save hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs at risk of state and local budget cuts.  Texas will be eligible to apply for another $1 billion this fall.  The July 24 funding is being made available per Texas’s successful completion of Part 1 of the State Stabilization Application, which was made available on April 1.

“These historic federal investments made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will help provide relief to our local school systems and make certain that they continue to increase access to a high quality education for all students," said Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. "I am hopeful that Texas will continue to provide the U.S. Department of Education with the assurances required to ensure that we are making progress in reforming our educational system and doing what is necessary to prepare our young people for college and beyond.

In order to receive the funds, Texas provided assurances that it will collect, publish, analyze and act on basic information regarding the quality of classroom teachers, annual student improvements, college readiness, the effectiveness of state standards and assessments, progress on removing charter caps and interventions in turning around underperforming schools.

Texas is also required by the Department of Education to report the number of jobs saved through Recovery Act funding, the amount of state and local tax increases averted and how funds are used.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “The Recovery Act was designed to meet two critical challenges:  rescue the economy from the immediate peril it faces and invest in the building blocks of a strong economy.  The Recovery Act investments in our students and our schools will have a huge payoff in the years ahead. The $2 billion Texas will receive today is part of the single largest boost in education funding in recent history. The President’s leadership and support from Congress have made this historic investment possible.  Texas can now utilize these funds to save jobs and lay the groundwork for a generation of education reform.”

To date, Texas has received $1.7 billion in education stimulus funds—representing a combination of funding for Title I, IDEA, Vocational Rehabilitation Grants, Independent Living Grants, Impact Aid and Government Services funds. On April 1, Texas received more than  $474 million in Title I funding and nearly $505 million in IDEA funding.   This represents 50 percent of the Title I and IDEA funding Texas is eligible for in total.  On April 1, Texas also received more than $22 million in Vocational Rehab funds and more than $3 million in Independent Living funds.  On April 10, Texas received nearly $7 million in Impact Aid funding.

Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, said, “As dean of the Texas Democratic Delegation, I am elated to know of today’s $800 raise for school teachers throughout our state. This raise, which is made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will help educators pay for their day-to-day living expenses.  With the high prices of gas, groceries, and other basic life necessities, I find it important for U.S. representatives from Texas to work together with state government officials to ensure we are providing funding to all who needed–especially our educators go give their heart and soul for a better Texas.”

“Texas schools have been waiting on good government to meet their needs and deliver real results. These federal dollars will raise teachers’ salaries and make a difference in the classroom, where we need it most. Our schools and our teachers deserve every dollar coming their way,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen “With these dollars we make sure our schools don’t get left behind. And this is another example of how the Recovery Act will help get America back on track and invest in the state’s priorities during these hard economic times.”

For more information on Texas’ and other state applications for initial funding under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program, please log on to:

http://www.ed.gov/programs/statestabilization/resources.html.

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Congressman Hinojosa secures $500,000 for Edinburg airport; measure awaits action by Senate

By TENO VILLARREAL

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, July 23, voted to help spur economic recovery and create jobs with targeted investments in a modern transportation system and housing assistance for all Americans.

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act builds on the work of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and our long-term economic plan to provide short-term help in the form of housing and jobs for those hurt most by the economic downturn and long-term solutions like improved infrastructure to put our economy on sound footing for the future. 

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

“We are committed to passing fiscally responsible appropriations legislation that invests in key priorities to grow our economy, while also cutting and eliminating programs that aren’t working.  This bill includes funding for programs and projects that directly impact the families and communities of Deep South Texas," said Hinojosa.

The bill includes funding for three projects in the Rio Grande Valley.  Hinojosa submitted these projects, and others, for funding under the Fiscal Year 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. 

Those projects are:

• The South Texas International Airport in Edinburg will receive $500,000 through the Federal Aviation Administration through its Airport Improvement Program to improve and lengthen runways and add fire and safety infrastructure.

• FM 493 in Hidalgo County will receive $300,000 through the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation and Community & System Preservation program for improvements to the road that serves as the primary point of entry for the new Donna/Rio Bravo international bridge.

• The North Rail Relocation Project in Cameron County will receive $400,000 through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Rail Line Relocation and Improvement program to continue the relocation of lines from downtown to remove at-grade crossings and allow emergency vehicles to more quickly reach those in need. Currently, trains can take more than an hour to pass through the community preventing first-responders to reach anyone on the other side of town.  The funding will also move the switching station to more effectively move freight from the international land ports.

The bill also includes a provision that appropriates $5 million for the Housing Assistance Council, as requested by Hinojosa. Two organizations, Proyecto Azteca and Affordable Homes of South Texas, Inc are benefactors of the Housing Assistance Council.  The funding is available for capacity building activities under the Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program.

The legislation addresses the challenges of keeping our transportation system safe, secure and up-to-date. To increase Americans’ use of public transportation and help wean us off of our addiction to foreign oil, the bill invests in the next generation of high-speed passenger rail and new commuter rail and light rail systems. It also calls for an effort to improve and repair the nation’s aging highway system and modernize the air traffic control system to make travel safer, easier and more efficient.

"Rebuilding and modernizing our roads, public transit and railways is overdue and absolutely necessary to maintain our safety and security and help minimize our dependence on foreign oil,” said Hinojosa. “It’s also a key tenet of our long-term economic plan and will pave the way for a new clean energy economy.”

To ensure that all Americans have access to housing and shelter during this economic crisis, the bill increases funding for rental vouchers and housing assistance for the neediest Americans – the disabled, elderly and homeless veterans. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act also invests in counseling to help families who are at risk of foreclosure stay in their homes and weather the mortgage crisis.

In order to spur economic development in vacant urban commercial and industrial sites, the bill invests in grant programs that revitalize neighborhoods and turn deserted areas into commercial destinations. The legislation also encourages economic development in rural communities by establishing a fund to drive rural innovation and entrepreneurship and support small businesses.

“Americans are struggling everywhere at this moment,” concluded Hinojosa. “We must provide immediate relief to those who have lost their homes and their jobs in this tough economy. At the same time, we have to make fiscally responsible decisions that will propel and grow our economy in the long run.”

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Farmers and ranchers to profit from U.S. energy bill approved by House, says Congressman Cuellar

By ASHLEY PATTERSON

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, July 23,  announced that America’s farmers and ranchers stand to significantly profit from the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month. According to a Department of Agriculture study released on Wednesday, July 22, farmers participating in carbon capture projects could produce profits as large as $20 billion by 2040.

“America’s farms are the life bread of this country and they deserve every dollar coming their way,” said Cuellar. “As a member of the Agriculture Committee I worked hard with Chairman Collin Peterson to make the energy bill better for our nation’s agricultural producers. I’m pleased to see this report; it exemplifies how the energy bill can strengthen our economy and preserve one of America’s last legendary trades.”

The Agriculture Department examined the profitability involved with carbon capture programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These programs include capturing methane gases from manure ponds, planting trees or practicing no-till agriculture (which helps keep carbon emissions in the soil). The Agriculture Department projects that farmers and ranchers who participate in these programs could earn $75 to $100 million a year beginning in 2012 and as much as $15 to $20 billion by 2040.

“By letting our agricultural producers participate in carbon offset programs we create a new profit margin for rural America,” said Cuellar. “This Agriculture report shows that Texas, of all states, stands to considerably benefit from the energy bill. If anyone thought this bill was a bust, you can see how it’s a boom to South Texas.”

Last month, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act following extensive negotiations between the bill’s authors and lawmakers representing agriculture-producing districts. Cuellar, the only Texas Democrat, represented in the House Agriculture Committee, helped secure major concessions enabling agricultural producers to participate in carbon offset programs. By doing so, it allows farmers and ranchers to capture carbon emissions and sell those carbon reductions as credits to manufacturing companies.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers can potentially outpace – perhaps significantly – the costs from climate legislation,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on July 22. “In the short term, the economic benefits to agriculture from cap and trade legislation will likely outweigh the costs. In the long term, the economic benefits from offsets markets easily trump increased input costs from cap and trade legislation.”

For more information on the Agriculture Department study, please visit:

http://www.usda.gov/oce/newsroom/archives/releases/2009files/HR2454.pdf

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Roberto Hugo González, local publisher, earns two prestigious honors for journalistic endeavors

Roberto Hugo González, publisher of Texas Border Business and Mega Metropolis Health & Fitness,

has picked up two key recognitions for his publishing endeavors and his excellence in journalism in the pursuit of public service.

During the McAllen South Rotary Club Annual Officer Installation Banquet, held on Wednesday, June 24, González was honored with the Paul Harris Fellow award by the McAllen Rotary Club. The award is given to those who have given outstanding service and is the highest prestigious award recognition given to a fellow Rotarian.

Rotary International is one of the largest not-for-profit service organizations in the world, with more than one million members actively participating in thousands of local clubs spread across 161 countries around the world.

Harris, the founder of Rotary International, grew up in the small town of Wallingford, Vermont, attended law school, traveled extensively after he graduated, and then journeyed in 1899 to the city of Chicago to establish a law practice of his own and founded the club.

Rotary International Foundation contributes nearly $100 million every year toward humanitarian programs in which Rotary members participate and voluntarily raise funds more than any other membership organization throughout the United States.

“What is unique about the Rotary Club is that Paul Harris, the founder, had modeled it not on the organization and professionalism found at the highest levels of the corporate sector and boardrooms, but on the spirit of public improvement as one of the main activities of membership and the spirit of fellowship," said González.

González thanked Charlie López, past President of the local Rotary Club Charlie. It was López who introduced the local publisher/journalist to the club.

“When I became a member of McAllen South Rotary Club, I did it in order to serve and be able to claim that I have put ‘Service Above Self’," González reflected.

“You make me look good,” said López, who co-owns Denny’s with Alvie Britton. They operate four establishments in McAllen, Mission, and Rio Grande City.

During the event, many other members were recognized for their dedication and service to this community. Members of the club take part in different activities to raise funds, which are used for scholarships among other noble projects. 

From its headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, Rotary International provides its members with the opportunity to address such issues as AIDS, homelessness, polio, lack of education, hunger, and other national and international problems.

The first meeting of the new Rotary Club, held in 1905, was an immediate success and the Rotary Club, named because of the rotating meetings held from office to office of the members, was off to a grand beginning.

In late spring, González was selected as the 2009 Small Business Journalist of the Year in the Rio Grande Valley by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

He received the prestigious SBA award during at a ceremony at the University of Texas-Pan American Annex in Edinburg on Thursday, April 30.

“The U.S. Small Business Administration would like to recognize your hard work, innovative ideas, and dedication to your community that have made you a success in your business. You should be proud of the role you are playing in our nation’s economic growth,” said SBA District Director Kimberly Jones, who is based in the SBA’s Lower Rio Grande Valley District Office in Harlingen.

“I am pleased and happy to receive this honor. The feeling at being the recipient of this award is parallel to none. I will work harder in order to earn the privilege again,” said González.

Each year since 1963, the President has issued a proclamation calling for the celebration of Small Business Week. National Small Business Week recognizes outstanding small business owners for their personal successes and contributions to the nation’s economy.

Texas Border Business is a monthly business newspaper headquartered in McAllen that focuses on what makes the Valley economy tick. It carries exclusive news stories, often concerning companies expanding their operations or moving into the region for the first time, reports, analysis and commentary. It launched in June 2005.

Mega Metropolis Health & Fitness is a monthly publication focusing on the health industry in South Texas.

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Countrywide customers eligible for restitution to begin receiving claim forms in the mail

Texans eligible for $7.46 million in restitution from Countrywide Financial Corp. should be on the lookout for claim form, which were mailed late last week. The $7.46 million restitution program, which was first announced by Attorney General Greg Abbott in February, is specifically set aside for Countrywides Texas customers whose loans originated between January 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2007, who lost their homes to foreclosure or whose payments were 120 days behind as of October 6, 2008.

Only customers who receive letters from Countrywide will be eligible for restitution, and those customers must complete and mail claim forms in order to receive their share of the total restitution amount. The final dollar amount homeowners receive in restitution will depend upon the number of eligible Texans who make restitution claims.

Last year, the attorney general investigated Countrywide for encouraging homeowners to accept loans they could not afford, failing to fully disclose risky loan terms to borrowers and writing loans for unqualified borrowers in an effort to increase market share.

The $7.46 million restitution program was part of a $345 million settlement the OAG reached with Countrywide.

Additionally, the states agreement with the lender included $335 million in loan modifications for about 30,000 Texans.

About 1,400 Texans who are in default – or are likely to be in default – on their subprime mortgages and who voluntarily and appropriately turn over their residence in the Relocation Assistance Program, are eligible to receive up to $2,000. The Relocation Assistance Program is expected to provide $2.8 million in benefits to Texas homeowners.

Each claimant is projected to receive a minimum of $1,400.

For more information, visit http://www.countrywidesettlementinfo.com.

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Congressman Cuellar is new vice-chairman of Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute

By VANESSA BILANCERI

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, is now Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI). 

Cuellar was voted in by the CHLI Board of Directors at its Thursday, July 9, private meeting. He fills a spot that has been vacant since February 2009 when Raquel "Rocky" Egusquiza, then with the Ford Motor Company Fund, stepped down.

The Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI, pronounced “chili”) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., that advances the diversity of thought in the U.S. Hispanic community in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, as well as in the international community. 

 “The CHLI Board of Directors is extremely pleased that Congressman Henry Cuellar, a colleague and personal friend, has agreed to take on this important leadership role at CHLI,” said Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart, R-Florida, who serves as CHLI Board Chairman.  “Congressman Cuellar has the energy and talent to help CHLI continue into the future as a key organization promoting and supporting Hispanic leadership at all levels.  I thank him for his dedication.”

Cuellar, originally from Laredo, was first elected to represent the 28th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005. He is widely recognized as a leader on trade issues for his support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

He also authored the Prosperous and Secure Neighbor Alliance Act of 2007 to combat drug trafficking along the border, and he passed an amendment in the 2008 Farm Bill to address cattle fever ticks, making it the first federal bill to specifically address this major South Texas concern.

He currently serves on three powerful committees in the U.S. House of Representatives:  the Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which ensures the efficient and effective operation of the U.S. government.

Prior to serving in Congress, Cuellar served as Texas Secretary of State and a State Representative for 14 years.

“I want to thank Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart and the CHLI Board of Directors for this opportunity; I feel honored to serve CHLI in this new leadership role. It’s a privilege to represent our Hispanic and Portuguese communities at a time when diversity is becoming increasingly embraced,” said Cuellar. “I’ll continue to work hard in promoting our communities and advancing fair opportunities for all minorities. As a board member, and now Vice-Chair, of CHLI, I share a fundamental belief in supporting Hispanic leadership at all levels of society and I look forward to advancing this cause.”

CHLI’s Board of Directors includes many prominent members of Congress and corporate representatives. The newest members are: Congressman Pedro Perluisi (PR) and Belinda Garza of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

In addition to Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Cuellar, the CHLI Board of Directors includes the following congressional members: Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Florida;  Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida; Congressman Albio Sires, D-New Jersey; and Congressman Devin Nunes, R-California.

For more information, please visit http://www.chli.org

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Gov. Perry visits Texas military forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of gubernatorial trip

Gov. Rick Perry thanked U.S. troops and members of the Texas Military Forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan during a U.S. Department of Defense sponsored trip to visit military men and women defending freedom around the globe.

“I’m proud to have the opportunity to visit the dedicated men and women who sacrifice so much to protect freedom around the world,” Perry said. “These individuals work hard through difficult and dangerous conditions to protect others, and deserve our highest honor and deepest appreciation.”

Perry was part of a five governor delegation, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons. The governors stopped at several cities in Iraq, including Baghdad, Taji, Al Asad and Tallil. In Afghanistan, stops included Bagram, Gardez, Ghazni, Jalalabad, and the Task Force Phoenix Headquarters. He also stopped at bases in Kuwait and Germany.

While at Camp Taji, the governor distributed Texas flags that have flown over the State Capitol, and presented the combat infantry badge to Sgt. Maj. Travis Petty of Fort Worth and specialist Bradley Merchant of Lubbock. The governor also visited the Wounded Warrior Ministry Center in Landsthul, Germany, which provides comfort items to wounded service members evacuated from the battlefield. These non military items come exclusively from donations.

“The Texas Military Forces are proudly serving in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and represent the largest number of National Guard troops deployed in the nation to Overseas Contingency Operations,” Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Jose Mayorga said. “There are Texas soldiers in Iraq today who are on their 4th or 5th deployment since 2001, and continue to serve selflessly. These men and women are Texas heroes and heroines, and great Americans.”

As of May 2009, Texas had more than 35,000 deployed service members, including approximately 4,500 from the Texas National Guard, more than any other state in the nation.

To view photos of the trip, please visit http://www.governor.state.tx.us

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Four Rio Grande Valley men convicted of cocaine trafficking and laundering millions

A federal jury on Tuesday, July 21, convicted four Rio Grande Valley men of distributing more than 200 kilograms of cocaine and laundering millions in drug proceeds, United States Attorney Tim Johnson has announced. The convictions were handed down in Houston.

Mariano Álvarez, 44, of Rio Grande City, Eden Flores Sr., 48, and brothers, Guadalupe Hernández, 45, and Abraham Hernández, 43, all of Mission, were convicted late Tuesday afternoon of conspiracy to and possession with intent to distribute more than 217 kilograms of cocaine. Álvarez and Flores were also convicted of a conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Álvarez was found guilty of laundering $2,279,995 in drug proceeds.

During the nine-day trial, the jury learned that between January 2005 until February 2007, these defendants used hollowed out medical oxygen tanks to transport cocaine from Álvarez Road in Rio Grande City to the McAllen-Mission area. The modified medical oxygen tanks were transported in commercial vehicles that were specifically designed to transport hazardous materials. Two of the tanks, which were seized, contained a total of 217 kilograms of cocaine.

According to the testimony and evidence, Álvarez acted as the “pasadores” or crosser for cocaine from Mexico through the Rio Grande City area to the McAllen-Mission area. Abraham Hernández introduced the driver of the oxygen tanks into the conspiracy, and he and his brother, Guadalupe Hernández, shared in the payments received by the driver for transporting cocaine. Prior to and after the seizure of the cocaine transported in the oxygen tanks, Flores, Guadalupe and Abraham Hernández conspired to use UPS to ship cocaine in packages.

Both Flores and Álvarez were convicted of conspiracy to launder drug money. Álvarez was also convicted of substantive counts relating to his transport of $279,995 in drug proceeds from Dallas to Freer, Texas, secreted in a spare tire in April 2005 as well as $2 million dollars in drug proceeds he agreed to transport from Mission to Mexico. The jury acquitted both Álvarez and Flores of a substantive money laundering count relating to the transport $35,000 from the Rio Grande City area of Texas to Mission to be used as bond for an arrested co-conspirator. Álvarez was also acquitted of another count alleging he had laundered more than $400,000.  

This is the second trial of these defendants on these charges. The first trial, which began in November 2008 in McAllen, ended in a mistrial in December 2008.

Eden Flores Sr., according to testimony during trial, was the owner of the La Tejana Meatmarkets and La Tejana Steakhouse in the McAllen area. Álvarez owned Girisoles Construction and a large ranch in Rio Grande City.

U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane, who presided over both trials, has set sentencing for Sept. 23, 2009. All five defendants face no less than 10 years up to life imprisonment and a $4 million fine for the drug conspiracy and substantive drug count convictions. Álvarez and Flores also face a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for their money laundering convictions.

The investigation leading to the arrest and federal charges of Álvarez, Flores, and the Hernandez brothers was conducted by agents of Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Texas Department of Public Safety, police departments in Mission, Weslaco and Pharr along with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and the Central South Texas Narcotics Task Force.

The case was tried by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesse Salazar.

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