Select Page

 

The Rio Grande Council, Boy Scouts of America, in late November recognized Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College, and the STC Board of Trustees at its annual dinner. The event celebrated the contributions of the leadership of STC to making the Rio Grande Valley a better place to live and work. Fr. Antonio “T.J.” Martínez, an Eagle Scout and Jesuit priest, was the guest speaker for the occasion. He touched on the importance of service and making a lasting impact on the lives of others. Reed was honored alongside STC Board Chair Mike Allen; Board Vice Chair Gary Gurwitz; and board members Roy De León; Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr., Óscar Longoria Jr., and Jesse Villarreal. “What a tremendous honor to be recognized by such a venerable institution standing for the best attributes of community caring and service,” said Reed. “But this award belongs to the real heroes at STC – our students. They are the ones making the courageous decision to put other obligations aside to secure a higher education, thus a chance at a brighter, more fulfilling future. They are the ones making an impact, changing families and showing others that anything is possible. This award belongs to them.” Under Reed’s and the board of trustees’ leadership, STC has grown to offer more than 100 degree and certificate program options from its five state-of-the-art campuses to more than 27,000 students. Their vision has allowed STC to become a thriving intellectual and community center, hosting art lectures, business luncheons, congressional briefings, scout meetings, visiting authors, and many other events enriching the lives of community members. Featured, from left, are: Dr. Uvaldo Cantú, Jr., president of the Rio Grande Council Boy Scouts; Fr. Antonio “T.J.” Martinez;  President  Reed; Gary Gurwitz, vice-chair of the STC Board of Trustees; and Ernesto Carballo with the Rio Grande Council Boy Scouts. 

•••••• 

Many Starr County residents came out to South Texas College’s Starr County Campus on the evening of Thursday, November 19, 2009 for a special event – the swearing in of Rose Benavidez (featured left) to represent the constituents of the county on STC’s Board of Trustees. Surrounded by family, friends and community supporters, Benavidez was sworn in by Starr County Judge Eloy Vera. Business associates and supporters helped mark the occasion by congratulating Benavidez on choosing to serve in public office. “When I drove into Rio Grande City for the event this afternoon and I saw all of the growth, it floored me,” said Bonnie González, chief executive officer of Workforce Solutions. “Every time I see it, it floors me. The opportunity that exists here is phenomenal and Rose has played a large part in helping to bring about that growth and opportunity. Starr County and South Texas College are very fortunate to have her on their side.” Administering the oath of office to Benavidez is Starr County Judge Eloy Vera. See story later in this posting. 

•••••• 

Edinburg unemployment rate for October registers another slight drop, to seven percent

By DAVID A. DÍAZ  

Edinburg posted a seven percent unemployment rate in October 2009, reflecting the third consecutive improvement since July 2009, when the city’s rate hit 7.8 percent –  the worst showing in more than four and a half years. 

The previous month –  in September – Edinburg reported a 7.6 percent unemployment rate, preceded by a  7.7 percent level in August 2009. 

The latest figure was released on Friday, November 20 by the Texas Workforce Commission.

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

All nine of the Valley’s largest cities saw slight drops in their unemployment rates. 

McAllen – the economic leader in the Valley – registered a 7.4 percent unemployment rate in October, compared with 7.5 percent in September and 7.3 percent in August.  

Brownsville, the most populated city in the Valley, reported a 10.8 percent unemployment rate in October, compared with 11 percent in September and 10.7 percent in August.  

At a county-wide level, the employment picture was still above double-digit rates.  

All cities in Hidalgo County averaged an 11.2 percent unemployment rate, compared with 11.6 percent in September, 11.4 percent in August and 11.5 percent in July.  

All cities in Cameron County average a 10.5 percent unemployment rate in October, compared with 10.8 percent in September, 10.5 percent in August, and 10.6 percent in July.  

The Texas seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.3 percent in October, up from   8.2 percent a month ago, and continued to trend well below the U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment  rate of 10.2 percent, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. 

The latest 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.  

A reported 2,235 Edinburg residents who were willing and able to work in October 2009 had no luck finding a job, according to the state agency.  

The year before, in October 2008, the city’s unemployment rate stood at 5.1 percent, when there were 1,545 residents jobless but looking for work, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.  

  • In October 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.5 percent;
  • In October 2006, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.8 percent; and
  • In October 2005, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.  

The higher figures come less than two years after Edinburg has 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 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.  

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

  • McAllen – 7.4 percent (7.5 percent in September, 7.3 percent in August, 7.5 percent in July);
  • Edinburg –7 percent (7.6 percent in Sepember, 7.7 percent in August, 7.8 percent in July);
  • Harlingen – 8.7 percent (9.1 percent in September, 8.8 percent in August, 8.9 percent in July);
  • Pharr – 9.3 percent (9.5 percent in September, 9.4 percent in August, 9.6 percent in July);
  • Mission – 9.6 percent (9.7 percent in September, 9.7 percent in August, 9.7 percent in July);
  • San Benito – 9.6 percent (10.2 percent in September, 9.5 percent in August, 10.1 percent in July);
  • Weslaco – 10.6 percent (11.3 percent in September, 10.7 percent in August, 10.6 percent in July);
  • Brownsville – 10.8 percent (11 percent in September, 10.7 percent in August, 10.8 percent in July); and
  • San Juan – 11.1 percent (11.8 percent in September, 12 percent in August, 11.9 percent in July).

Highlights of key figures for Edinburg include:  

Unemployment rate, by month  

  • October 2009:  7 percent
  • October 2008: 5.1 percent
  • October 2007: 4.5 percent
  • October 2006: 4.8 percent
  • October 2005: 4.4 percent  

Unemployment rate, by year  

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

People looking for work, by month  

  • October 2009: 2,235
  • October 2008: 1,545
  • October 2007: 1,365
  • October 2006: 1,392
  • October 2005: 1,192 

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  

  • October 2009: 29,597
  • October 2008: 28,993
  • October 2007: 28,638
  • October 2006: 27,357
  • October 2005: 25,926 

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  

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission:  

Total nonagricultural employment in Texas increased by 41,700 positions in October with  significant increases in Professional and Business Services and Education and Health Services.     

“In October, the Texas job market regained some lost ground experienced over the past several months,  although it is too soon to indicate a trend,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom  Pauken. “The Texas unemployment rate continued to edge upward as our state continues to feel the  effects of the national economic downturn.”     

Education and Health Services employment grew in October with the addition of 14,900 jobs, and  Professional and Business Services added 10,800 positions in October. Employment in the Financial  Activities industry increased by 4,500 jobs in October.     

“Reports of job gains in October are good news, and certainly better than the alternative, but we remain  concerned about the many Texans who still cannot find work,” said Ronny Congleton, TWC Commissioner Representing Labor. “We want to encourage those seeking work to take advantage of the job-search  and training services available at our workforce centers across Texas.”     

Employment in the Leisure and Hospitality industry was up in October by 2,600 jobs, while Trade,  Transportation and Utilities reported an increase of 2,500 positions in October.  

Construction employment  continued to experience job losses with a decrease of 9,400 jobs last month.     

“We are encouraged by increased employment reports across most industries in October specifically in  the service providing sector which includes health care, business and finance,” said Andrés Alcantar, TWC Commissioner Representing the Public. “TWC and the 28 local workforce development boards remain determined to help out-of-work Texans find jobs.”

     

•••••• 

Farouk Shami – "American Dream Businessman" – announces plan to run for governor as a Democrat

Texas business leader Farouk Shami on Thursday, November 19, announced that he is running for Texas governor as a Democrat in 2010.  

He made his announcement at his Houston-based firm, CHI USA, which sits on more than 500,000 square feet of manufacturing employing thousands of people,  

“I am ready to bring the values that motivated me every day in my own life, and in my career into Texas state government,” said Shami. “I am running for governor because I am tired of the influence that lobbyists and special interests have in Austin. And instead of taking money from the taxpayers, I will serve as governor for a $1 a year in pay. This state has given me plenty – now it’s time for me to give back.” 

Shami’s decision comes less than four months after Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, praised the latest entry into the state gubernatorial campaign on July 30, announcing Farouk System’s relocation of its manufacturing facility to Houston, creating more than 1,200 jobs and generating $26 million in capital investment. The company is expected to create several thousand additional jobs within the next several years, the governor predicted at the time. 

Forty-four years ago, Shami arrived with $71 in his pocket and invented the first ammonia free hair lightener and coloring system. This experience inspired him to spend more time thinking about how to solve problems.  

In 1992, he invented a process for the use of silk molecules in hair products and developed the BioSilk line. Nine years later, he helped to pioneer thermal tool technology and invented the CHI ceramic line. Four years ago, he turned to a NASA scientist, Dr. Dennis Morrison, to create even more innovative, safer, and environmentally friendly products. Together they’ve invented hairdryers with low electromagnetic fields and formulated a line of hair tools with nano silver molecules, which kill up to 650 forms of bacteria. 

As Texas governor, Shami said will create new jobs, improve education, reform health care, fix state government, and protect the environment.  He said he knows how the economy works because he has built a business from the ground up that employs thousands of people and exports to 114 countries. He understands the challenges of health care because he provides health care for his employees.  

Shami also built his company to be environmentally friendly and owns three ranches in Texas, where he planted 10,000 olive trees to be used as ingredients for the CHI Organics line. Shami wants to take his lifelong passion for education to improve public schools because he believes that education is the key to giving children the tools they need in order to be strong in the future. 

“I know this race will not be easy. But who would have thought only a few years ago that a young man named Barack Hussein Obama could be elected to the most powerful job on earth,” said Shami. “It could only happen here in America. I think the time has come for our Democratic Party here in Texas to show our state and nation that we will not be limited by stereotypes of the past or the old ways of thinking. We will not be limited in what we can achieve if we put our faith, hope, and trust in the principles that inspired this great nation and are at the heart of this great state—a belief in freedom and equality, a recognition that if you work hard and achieve you can accomplish anything in life, and a knowledge that our greatest responsibility is to leave this world in a better condition than it was left to us.”  

Late last August, Shami’s candidacy benefitted from his potential rival’s remarks. 

“When companies look at Texas, they’re discovering that we’ve fostered an environment that encourages people to pursue their dreams, build businesses and create jobs, Gov. Perry said on August 30. “Here in Houston, where Farouk Systems already employs hundreds of Texans, the company is now adding more than 1,200 manufacturing jobs that were previously located in Asia. These jobs not only represent paychecks going to hardworking Texas families, they are also an indication that the Texas approach is working.” 

Farouk Systems manufactures and exports professional hair care and spa products, including CHI and Biosilk, to more than 90 countries, and currently employs 400 Texans at its Houston headquarters, manufacturing and distribution facilities. The company will expand its Texas operations by relocating its research and development, design, manufacturing, assembling, packaging, marketing and shipping from Korea and China to new facilities in Houston. 

“As technology connects markets that are thousands of miles apart, we have worked hard to make our state competitive, including investments in job creation and our efforts to improve our workforce by making our education system more accountable,” Perry said. “Word is out that Texas is the place to be if you want to work hard, create jobs and reap the rewards of your efforts.” 

•••••• 

Tom Schieffer drops plan to seek Democratic gubernatorial nomination, supports Bill White

By TOM SCHIEFFER  

On Sunday, November 22, my treasurer, Lyndon Olson, and I met In Houston with Mayor Bill White.  I urged Mayor White to consider running for governor instead of the United States Senate. I told him that I thought our state was facing a crisis of leadership and if we did not have a new governor, Texas could wind up being a third world state. 

I also told him that I thought the Democratic Party offered the only chance for real change in Texas and we had to have a candidate that was thoughtful and serious and could draw from a broad range of support. I told him that I thought he could be that candidate and that I was prepared to withdraw from the race in order to make that happen. 

So, I am announcing today (Monday, November 23) that I will no longer be a candidate for governor. I hope my actions will be a catalyst for others to reassess their intentions and to join me in supporting Mayor White for governor. We simply must get behind one candidate that can unite our party and offer a credible alternative to the Republicans next fall.  I think Bill White is that candidate, and I hope others will join me in urging him to run.

I want to thank the folks who went out on a limb to support my candidacy. So many of them have been my friend for thirty and forty years. To them it was always more about friendship than politics. But there were countless others that supported my candidacy and said they wanted to help because they thought I could take our state in a different direction. Old friends or new friends, I was deeply touched by your willingness to help, and I thank you. 

Finally, I want to thank my family for pitching in. They have always been there for me. I wish that I could have saved them from the pain of this moment, but I love them and appreciate very much their sacrifice in my behalf. 

•••••• 

DPS warns parents: Mexican cartels and gangs recruiting teenagers in Texas public schools

The Texas Department of Public Safety is warning parents across the state to be aware of efforts by  Mexican cartels and transnational gangs to recruit Texas youth in schools and communities.  These violent organizations are luring teens with the prospect of cars, money and notoriety,  promising them if they get caught, they will receive a minimal sentence.     

The Mexican cartels constantly seek new ways to smuggle drugs and humans into Texas are now  using state based gangs and our youth to support their operations on both sides of the border. For example, Laredo natives Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio Reta were recruited in their teens to be hit men for the Zetas.  

The Zetas, composed primarily of former Mexican military commandos, originally served as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, but have since become their own cartel.   

El Paso teens have been recruited to smuggle drugs across the border, many with the packs taped to  their bodies. While such recruitment is growing across Texas, juveniles along the Texas-Mexico border are particularly susceptible.  

In 2008, young people from the counties along the Texas-Mexico border  accounted for just 9 percent of the population in Texas, but 18 percent of the felony drug charges  and gang-related arrests.    

“As these dangerous organizations seek to co-opt our children to support their criminal operations,  it is more important than ever that parents be aware of these risks, talk to their children and pay  attention to any signs that they may have become involved in illegal activities,” said Steven C.  McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. "To protect our communities and our children from these powerful and ruthless criminal  organizations, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the District Attorneys in Texas  border counties are working together to detect, disrupt and deter Mexican cartel-related crime along  the Texas-Mexico border."   

•••••• 

Legislative Committee on Aging studies Senior population

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR

It is estimated that by 2040 Texans over 60 will comprise 23 percent of the total state population. 

Services that affect the everyday life of seniors in this state need better coordination, expansion and more accessibility. 

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed me chair of the Committee on Aging this interim. 

Modeled after the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and created from legislation authored by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, we held our first hearing in Austin on October 29. 

Potential topics we will study include health care, income, transportation, housing, education and employment needs related to the demographic and geographic diversity of Texas’ elderly population. 

In his presentation at our first hearing, State Demographer Karl Eschbach, Ph.D., showed that many seniors and those who care for them are faced with the challenges of living on low, fixed incomes.  The poverty rate for seniors age 65 or older is 14 percent statewide. In my Senatorial District in South Texas, that number is approximately 34 percent. 

Testimony from interim Jon Weizenbaum, Commissioner for the Department of Aging and Disability Services, corroborated Eschbach’s findings that rural, border and non-major metropolitan areas are growing older because of the out-migration of youth to major metropolitan areas. 

Rural and smaller communities, such as those along the border,  often find it challenging to access available state resources. Their elderly populations may find it even more difficult to access and navigate the system either because they don’t know how or assistance and resources are not available in their areas. 

Seniors and those who care for them need to access services designed to ease challenges that impede everyday living, such as transportation to and from the grocery store and doctor. Many also need safe, affordable or wheelchair accessible housing. For example, home modifications that range from replacing cabinet doorknobs with pull handles to building wheelchair ramps challenges the elderly population and those who care for them. 

The committee also plans to examine services available for caregivers of the elderly. Projections show that by 2040, the 65-plus population who is dependent on others for assistance will nearly equal the dependent population below age 15. 

Most care given to seniors is unpaid and provided by "informal caregivers" who are mainly family, relatives and friends. 

The economic downturn has affected family caregivers in some significant ways, including use of savings, additional debt to cover the cost of care giving and work situations. On average, six in 10 people caring for a relative or friend are employed at some point, and one-third of them provide 40 hours of care per week. 

Weizenbaum also estimates that some 10 percent of older Texans are caring for a family member. 

Compared to nursing home or hired help, informal care saves families money. If the state provides an adequate support system for these caregivers – especially those facing economic hardships – then they can offer their loved ones a higher quality of care with fewer financial constraints. 

Proper education and training can also reduce abuse of the elderly by caregivers. 

Committee members expressed concern about meeting family caregiver needs like respite, support groups, education, training and other supplemental services. 

Many areas of the state offer adult day care facilities for low-income seniors that enable family caregivers to work and obtain respite. For example, Cameron County has 55 centers, Hidalgo – of which I represent a portion – has 157, Willacy three and Kleberg two. 

Besides these topics, the committee may also choose to discuss legal services, financial planning and consumer protection for the elderly. 

It is necessary for the committee to address as many pertinent issues as possible. We owe it to our elderly population who has made this country great for the rest of us.  

•••••• 

Congressional leaders on Saturday, December 5, to sponsor Home Preservation Workshop

By CELINE THOMASSON 

Area homeowners in McAllen and the surrounding Rio Grande communities at risk of foreclosure will have the opportunity to meet face-to-face financial counselors and mortgage lenders at the free Homeownership Preservation Workshop on Saturday, December 5, 2009 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., on the South Texas College Pecan Campus. 

This year, while McAllen and communities around the nation are facing the largest mortgage crisis our country has ever seen, it is more critical than ever to focus on sustainable homeownership and the resources that can help homeowners avoid foreclosure. 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, are supporting the event. 

“One of the most important pillars that support our nation’s economic structure is the mortgage industry,” said Cuellar. “During these difficult economic times, it is imperative that we work together to strengthen not only our financial institutions, but to lend a helping hand to struggling home owners.” 

Hinojosa added, “Home ownership is so important and such a big step to take in the financial arena. That is why being well informed is of the utmost importance. With workshops like the one being held in our community with representatives from federal and local entities to private companies, we can all work together to learn how to avoid a financial disaster and keep our families in our homes which we have worked so hard to buy. As co-founder and co-chairman of the Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus, I continue to promote financial literacy causes and outreach to the private sector, to non-profits, community based organizations and most of all our residents.” 

In addition, the Hidalgo County Housing Authority, HUD, and various local organizations will participate. The goal of the event is to give struggling homeowners face time with their lenders and financial counselors to develop a possible loan modification or financial plan to avoid foreclosure. Representatives from Chase, Wells Fargo, American Home Mortgage Servicing, Ocwen, and Fannie Mae will be in attendance. 

The workshop, which includes brief educational sessions with homeowners, is free and open to the public.  English and Spanish speaking counselors will be available for homeowners to have a face-to-face conversation with a third-party advisor. These sessions will provide homeowners with a better understanding of their financial situation and options, which can possibly lead to loan modifications. 

Today, homeownership remains a key way in which low and middle income families build wealth. It is important to ensure that families receive the appropriate loan product and have the education to maintain homeownership. Housing counseling agencies from around the country, such as Consumer Credit Counseling, provide free, quality pre-purchase homeownership counseling to tens of thousands of homeowners ever year.  

To find a local housing counseling agency go to http://www.hud.gov

•••••• 

Congressman Hinojosa introduces measure to help slow down crisis of "dropout factories"

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, along with other Democratic members of  the Education and Labor Committee, on Thursday, November 19, introduced critical legislation to address the high school dropout crisis. Nationwide, about 7,000 high school students drop out every day. Only about 70 percent of students, across the nation, now graduate from high school with a regular diploma. 

This legislation would create a new $2 billion competitive grant program to improve the nation’s lowest performing high schools and middle schools. 

“Our nation’s ‘dropout factories’ pose one of the greatest threats to our nation’s growth and competitiveness. ‘The Graduation for All Act of 2009’ builds on ‘The Graduation Promise Act’ to address the high school dropout crisis by investing in our nation’s lowest performing middle and high schools," said Hinojosa. 

This legislation would provide school districts clear guidelines on turn around strategies. It will combine rigorous coursework with academic and social support services to encourage students and keep them engaged in school. It would also help schools implement a data system to allow teachers and other school staff to identify students who are at risk and determine what type of intervention is needed to help the students stay in school. 

“It is imperative that all of our young people stay in school, succeed, and contribute to our nation’s workforce and economy. This is the only way we will remain globally competitive. We must not turn a blind eye to the fact that our minority students have a higher risk of dropping out of school”, said Hinojosa. 

Schools which receive grants must build a graduation improvement team, including school leaders, teachers, experts and other school staff members  and people from the community to help carry out the plan. This will improve academic achievement, increase graduation rates and promote college enrollment and completion. 

High schools must also prepare students for college by providing them with full information about financial aid options, developing graduation and career plans and offering classes on a college campus. 

“I have spent my years in Congress fighting for the cause that every child in the United States should have a fair chance at a good education. I will never give up that fight, especially for our children in the Rio Grande Valley” said Hinojosa. 

•••••• 

Rose Benavidez sworn in to represent Starr County on South Texas Board of Trustees

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

Many Starr County residents came out to South Texas College’s Starr County Campus on the evening of Thursday, November 19, 2009 for a special event – the swearing in of Rose Benavidez to represent the constituents of the county on STC’s Board of Trustees. 

Surrounded by family, friends and community supporters, Benavidez was sworn in by Starr County Judge Eloy Vera. Business associates and supporters helped mark the occasion by congratulating Benavidez on choosing to serve in public office. 

“When I drove into Rio Grande City for the event this afternoon and I saw all of the growth, it floored me,” said Bonnie González, chief executive officer of Workforce Solutions. “Every time I see it, it floors me. The opportunity that exists here is phenomenal and Rose has played a large part in helping to bring about that growth and opportunity. Starr County and South Texas College are very fortunate to have her on their side.” 

A native of Starr County, Benavidez is familiar with the challenges many area residents face when growing up in a rural region, but also values the cultural enrichment it provides an individual. Her belief in the power of education to transform minds, lives, and communities was part of the reason why she chose to run for the vacant District 1 seat on STC’s Board of Trustees. 

“I have witnessed first hand the challenges our community has faced battling high unemployment and poverty levels and have seen how education can be a driving force in leading our community and its residents to prosperity,” said Benavidez. “At a young age I was taught the value of an education and began to understand the barriers many face, especially in Starr County, to achieve their educational goals. I want to work hard to make certain that those obstacles are eliminated.” 

Benavidez is also the executive director of the Starr County Industrial Foundation, a role she began in 2003, and one that will prove an integral component in her work as an STC trustee. 

“My job involves promoting economic development and developing workforce training opportunities for our area and I know the knowledge I have gained and the partnerships I have made will directly benefit the college and the community,” said Benavidez. “I look forward to working with STC to develop a technology-based workforce that can attract new industries to the county, bringing with them opportunities for higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs.” 

She looks forward to serving all the constituents of STC and continuing to ensure that the community continues to progress in becoming a “college going culture,” where attending college is possible and expected for all. 

“When I started to consider serving on the board, I saw it as an opportunity to utilize my experience and knowledge in economic development for the benefit of the college and the communities it serves,” she concluded. “I hope to bring a fresh perspective and work closely with my colleagues on the board to help continue expanding and improving STC.” 

Benavidez earned her bachelor’s in political science and is completing her master’s in public administration from The University of Texas-Pan American. She is a member of numerous civic and professional organizations, including as a board member of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Workforce Development Board, vice-chair of the Border Region Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board, a founding member of the Rio South Texas Economic Development Council, a member of the Texas Workforce Commission Industry Task Force, a member of the Texas Business and Education Coalition, and a member of the Career Employment Advisory Committee of South Texas. 

•••••• 

Official enrollment at UTPA for Fall 2009 reaches 18,377, up 4.6 percent from Fall 2008

By MELISSA VÁSQUEZ 

The official student enrollment at The University of Texas-Pan American for fall 2009 increased by 4.6 percent from last fall according to certified numbers released Nov. 18 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. 

UTPA enrollment for fall 2009 totaled 18,337 compared to fall 2008 when numbers reached 17,534. In the category of entering freshmen (full- and part-time), UTPA had an increase of 8.2 percent with 2,882 students in contrast to 2,663 in fall 2008. 

“Increasing an enrollment by more than 800 students is pretty significant for any institution. For example our freshmen class increased by more than 200 students, which meant with that type of increase we had to add several additional classes (and instructors and professors) in several disciplines to meet their needs,” said Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services. 

Edwards credited a more active and targeted recruitment-marketing program for the enrollment increase in addition to more high school and community college visits by UTPA recruiters in Admissions and New Student Services. 

“This is a very positive step for the institution. We increased our entering freshmen enrollment during a fall enrollment when our admissions standards increased. We give great kudos to the South Texas high schools for preparing more students who are eligible for admissions to the university,” Edwards said. 

Another positive result of the jump in fall 2009 entering freshmen enrollment according to Edwards, was that fewer of these students were required to take developmental classes. 

“Several years ago 42 percent of freshmen had to enroll in developmental classes at UTPA, and this fall only 25 percent required remediation,” Edwards said. “Again a big thanks to our schools. With these types of numbers we can begin to shift less funding to developmental courses, and more to regular academic courses, plus upper-level and graduate work.” 

In addition, UTPA saw an increase in transfer students from 797 in fall 2008 to 923 students transferring to the campus in fall 2009 for a 15.8 percent surge. Dr. Magdalena Hinojosa, associate vice president and dean of admissions, said several factors played a roll in the transfer student rise, including the opening of the UTPA Transfer Center, which is located at Pecan Boulevard and 29th Street in McAllen. 

“The creation of the Transfer Center across the street from South Texas College has allowed for convenient access to admissions and advising information. We have also stepped up our presence at community colleges in the Rio Grande Valley and around the state. In addition, the increase of Phi Theta Kappa scholarship money has also allowed us to recruit top transfer students from across the state,” Hinojosa said. “We are very pleased with the final results and have been working since September to continue this momentum into 2010.” 

Hinojosa said enrollment goals for fall 2010 include increasing the entering freshmen class by 3,000 for a four percent increase and upping the transfer class numbers by 1,000 for an eight percent increase. 

For undergraduate students, enrollment was up to 15,947 compared to 15,336 for a 4.0 percent growth while students enrolling in master’s programs jumped from 2,086 in 2008 to 2,272 in 2009 for an 8.9 percent hike. As for doctoral students, the numbers showed a 5.4 percent jump of 118 students compared to 112 last fall. 

Other notable statistics included the number of females and males enrolled at UTPA, which showed the women outnumbering the men with an enrollment of 10,471 versus 7,866. 

In the breakdown of college enrollment, the College of Science and Engineering led the six colleges with 3,890 students followed by the College of Health Sciences and Human Services with 3,301. Other college numbers included the College of Arts and Humanities, 2,889; College of Business Administration, 2,888; College of Education, 2,872; and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2,497. 

•••••• 

Sen. Lucio, in address to highway commission, urges funding for major South Texas projects

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ 

In November 2007, Texas voters approved Proposition 12, which authorized the issuance of up to $5 billion in general obligation bonds for highway improvement. In mid-2009, the Texas Legislature authorized the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to go to contract on approximately $2 billion of those voter-approved bonds for non-tolled highway projects. 

TxDOT districts and Metropolitan Planning Organizations were asked to help develop project selection criteria and a list of potential projects eligible for Proposition 12 funding. They identified more than $8.9 billion in possible projects. 

To narrow the list to the approximately $2 billion of Proposition 12 funding available, TxDOT staff divided the projects into three categories: 

• Corridor projects, which are of statewide significance

• Rehabilitation and safety projects, which focus on improving declining pavement scores and driver safety

• Mobility projects, which focus on relieving congestion on specific roadway segments. 

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, on Thursday, November 19, addressed the Texas Transportation Commissioners about the oversight of funding highway projects for the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.  

Below is the text from his statement: 

"With competing interests throughout the state, allocation of Proposition 12 funds is undoubtedly a difficult task that requires careful consideration and prioritization.  It is my understanding that during the selection process eligible projects were categorized by mobility projects, rehabilitation projects and corridor projects which are of statewide significance.  

In reviewing the proposed staff recommended list of projects to be funded, I’m concerned that the continued growth of South Texas and Rio Grande Valley has been overlooked.  Of the recommended projects for the Pharr District, there are no recommendations for fund allocation towards corridor projects.  

The Rio Grande Valley serves as an important corridor for the state’s international commerce. By next year the population of the entire region will be approximately 3.5 million people and this number is expected to double by 2040. Proper investment in the infrastructure of our emergent community is necessary to ensure continuity and growth of economic development for our state. 

Traffic counts in the Rio Grande Valley continue to rise; by 2028 the state expects to see a 63 percent increase in traffic in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties.   

I ask that you consider revising the fund allocation to include funding for corridor projects in the Pharr District. By upgrading existing highways it will be possible to create an efficient system from Texarkana to Houston and on to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  This will also improve highway access to the state’s gulf coast seaports.  

Gov. (Rick) Perry knows the importance of the development of South Texas corridors.  That is why in 2005 he instructed the commission to develop proposals to build an interstate-quality highway to connect the Rio Grande Valley to I-37. 

In 2003, I authored Senate Bill 409 to expand the make-up of the Texas Transportation Commission from three members to five to reflect the ethnic and geographic diversity of the State. It disappoints me that South Texas does not have a member on this board to reflect our interests, and to ensure that funding is fair and equitable. 

I understand the cost of freeway congestion is important, but you must also consider that the importance of the cost associated by ignoring a region that is growing.  Not giving South Texas the adequate resources to grow is bad for the state.   

I urge you to carefully review the selection of Proposition 12 projects, and ask that you consider funding vital corridor projects in the Rio Grande Valley." 

•••••• 

National Association of Hispanic Journalist "welcomes" Lou Dobbs’ departure from CNN

By O. Ricardo Pimentel 

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has long been on record as advocating fair, accurate and balanced coverage, on Latinos and immigration in particular. Fairness, accuracy and balance, on the whole, have been largely absent from CNN commentator Lou Dobbs’ coverage on immigration. 

NAHJ welcomes Dobbs’  departure from CNN, announced Wednesday,  November 12. We laud CNN’s willingness to let him out of his contract early to “pursue new opportunities.” 

We note, however, that Dobbs will continue as anchor of a daily radio show broadcast by more than 160 stations as part of the United Stations Radio Networks Inc. And even CNN acknowledges that his departure is based on his decision to “carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere.” 

Our fear is that CNN’s gain – represented by the loss of Dobbs – will simply be someone’s pain elsewhere. 

Dobbs’ “reporting”  prompted some groups earlier to demand that CNN either dismiss or control him, specifically on this issue of immigration. We’ve understood the deep concern Dobbs reporting has generated but did not join these efforts. Not because Dobbs is an NAHJ lifetime member by virtue of a single donation made earlier but because we believe that the best antidote to flawed journalism is good journalism, of the kind practiced both by our members and by most of the responsible press on the issue of immigration. 

In that spirit, today we call on CNN to keep the highest standards of journalism in mind as it considers Dobbs’ replacement, considering when it makes this decision the considerable harm Dobbs’ show has done to the cause of understanding on the issue of immigration in particular. It is an issue that has too long attracted fear mongering and inaccurate reporting. 

Soledad O’Brien’s  “Latino in America” series on CNN did much to advance this cause of understanding. As CNN considers how to replace Dobbs, we would ask for more of this kind of reporting and far less – as in none – of the kind practiced by Dobbs. 

Our issue with Dobbs has never been about “advocacy journalism.” Opinion journalism plays a treasured role as watchdog and valuable source of information in a democratic society. But this opinion should ideally be supported by facts. Dobbs has failed in this regard. 

Wherever he lands, we challenge journalists and listeners and viewers everywhere to continue weighing Dobbs’ “advocacy journalism” – on immigration in particular – against reality. In such a contest, we have no doubt that a more reasoned understanding of immigration and Latinos will prevail.  

Founded in 1984, NAHJ’s mission is to increase the percentage of Latinos working in our nation’s newsrooms and to improve news coverage of the Latino community. NAHJ is the nation’s largest professional organization for Latino journalists with more than 1,400 members working in English and Spanish-language print, photo, broadcast and online media. NAHJ is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization. For more information, visit http://www.nahj.org

Pimentel is the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Dobbs’ broadcasts are available by accessing his website at http://www.loudobbs.com. 

••••••  

Congressman Hinojosa announces IRS (VITA) grant for McAllen Chamber of Commerce

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, November 20, announced that the McAllen Chamber of Commerce was awarded $25,000 by the IRS through their VITA Grant Program. Under the VITA Grant Program, the IRS awarded matching grants to 147 organizations that offer free tax preparation services during the 2010 filing season at location in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

The McAllen Chamber of Commerce is one of only 9 organizations in the state of Texas that received the grant. 

“This funding, through the federal IRS system, helps so many individuals and families in our area. Volunteers offer free federal tax return preparation and electronic filing to low and moderate income residents who might not know how to file their income tax properly. I congratulate the McAllen Chamber of Commerce for all of the good work that they have done and continue to do”, said Hinojosa. 

The VITA program has provided more than 3 million tax returns in nearly 12,000 locations during the 2009 filing season. This was done by volunteers working under either the VITA program or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly, another volunteer program sponsored by the IRS. 

For the tax year 2009, individuals and families with an adjusted gross income of $49,000 or lower are eligible for assistance. 

•••••• 

Sen. Hutchison files legal brief in Chicago case relating to constitutional right to bear arms

By JEFF SADOSKY 

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to review another landmark gun rights case, McDonald v. City of Chicago, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, on Monday, November 23, filed a bipartisan, bicameral amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief asking the Supreme Court of the United States to hold the Second Amendment applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.  

In general, an amicus curiae, which is a Latin term that means "friend of the court", is the  name for a brief filed with the court by someone who is not a party to the case. 

Congressman Mark Souder, R-Indiana, and Congressman Mike Ross, D-Arizona, co-led the brief, which is signed by 58 senators and 251 representatives, more members of Congress than any amicus brief in U.S. history. 

“We believe the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to all law abiding Americans regardless where they live,” said Hutchison. “With its landmark decision in D.C. v. Heller, the Supreme Court affirmed an individual’s right to bear arms is a fundamental, Constitutionally-guaranteed liberty. The Second Amendment should protect all lawful gun owners, but some lower courts have allowed state infringement on this right. I look forward to the Supreme Court’s consideration of McDonald v. City of Chicago so this extremely important Constitutional question regarding a fundamental, individual right can be settled, once and for all.” 

“Working together, we’re making our gun rights in this country stronger,” said Tester, who serves as vice chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. “This isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about the rights all law-abiding Americans have under our Constitution, and those rights are always worth fighting for.” 

McDonald v. City of Chicago will examine the issue of whether the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments through the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Chicago case parallels the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case, in which the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. The Supreme Court found then that the District violated that right with its ban on possession of handguns not registered more than three decades ago, and its ban on maintaining a loaded, operable firearm for self-defense in the home. However, subsequent cases have attempted to circumvent the applicability of the Heller decision on the states. 

In McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Seventh Circuit Court ruled that Heller only applied to federal jurisdiction, like the District of Columbia, and not to states and municipalities. But the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in the case of Nordyke v. King that the Second Amendment applies to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

The Supreme Court expects to hear arguments on McDonald v. City of Chicago in February 2010, with a decision anticipated in June. 

In the lead-up to the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments on D.C. v. Heller in 2008, Hutchison, Tester, Souder and Ross authored an amicus brief affirming Congress’  view that individual rights are guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Their brief was signed by Vice President Dick Cheney in his capacity as the President of the Senate and, prior to this amicus brief, had more members of Congress than any other in U.S. history. 

•••••• 

Gov. Perry reiterates need to reduce federal claims backlog for veterans

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, November 23, emphasized the need to simplify veterans’ transition back into civilian life by reducing the number of claims pending at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regional offices in Waco and Houston. Earlier in November, the governor announced his office will fund up to 12 new veterans counselors to help the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) assist the VA to more quickly process benefits claims. 

“Our veterans have fought bravely in faraway lands and shouldn’t have to come home and do battle with bureaucracy,” Perry said. “Although this is a national issue, Texas will not stand by idly while our veterans are left waiting. We are firmly committed to fulfilling our moral duty to our service members by ensuring they receive their benefits in a timely manner.” 

The governor has directed the TVC to create a new Claims Processing Assistance Team (CPAT) to help address the backlog of more than 39,000 pending disability and health benefit claims in Texas, 38 percent of which have been pending for over four months. CPAT will draw upon TVC’s expertise in helping veterans manage claims, and will work closely with the VA in all areas of the claims process to reduce the backlog. 

“On behalf of my fellow veterans, I would like to express my appreciation to Gov. Perry for enabling the Texas Veterans Commission to establish this special claims processing assistance team,” TVC Chair Brig. Gen. Karen Rankin said. “Nothing is more important than ensuring Texas veterans do not experience delays in receiving much needed medical care and compensation for service connected disabilities.” 

Claims backlogs delay decisions on veterans’ disability compensation and medical care, often causing physical and economic hardship for veterans and their families. For every month these claims are pending, TVC estimates a delay of nearly $37 million in payments to Texas veterans.  

“Governor Perry’s innovative approach could help reduce a backlog of VA claims for our veteran men and women and their families,” said Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco. “The experienced staff of the Texas Veterans Commission will be able to step in and help immediately.” 

TVC has a successful track record in special initiatives with the VA. In 2008, TVC and the VA participated in a pilot project that significantly reduced delays in claims processing, leading the VA Central Office in Washington, D.C. to instruct regional offices nationwide to adopt TVC’s claims processing methods as best practices. 

For more information, please visit http://www.tvc.state.tx.us/

•••••• 

House passes Medicare reimbursement fix to help seniors keep their doctors

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, November 19, voted to protect millions of seniors relying on Medicare by fixing the way their physicians are reimbursed. The Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act, passed by the House today, aims to permanently reform the Medicare payment system, repealing a 21percent cut in payments scheduled for January 2010. 

Medicare is the federally administered system of health insurance available to persons aged 65 and over. 

“By blocking this cut and replacing it with a stable reimbursement system we will preserve seniors’ ability to keep their doctors,” said Cuellar. “This protects our seniors, helps our doctors and fixes a system that has been patched six times.” 

H.R. 3961 would correct a decade-long cycle of short-term fixes for the Medicare reimbursement rate system. Currently, health care providers treating seniors on Medicare are reimbursed according to the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. Congress has acted six times in the last six years to enact a short-term fix to the SGR. 

“This formula has continuously underserved and under reimbursed our doctors,” said Cuellar. “If we don’t fix the system, we endanger our ability to provide care to our seniors in the future. Enacting another short-term fix is like kicking the can down the road and jeopardizes the solvency of Medicare. A permanent fix is needed now and on the heels of reform, now is the time.” 

As companion legislation to the House health care reform bill passed two weeks earlier. H.R 3961 is supported by a wide range of organizations including the American Medical Association, AARP and the Military Officers Association of America. 

The SGR “fix”, as it is commonly known, protects access to physicians for Medicare beneficiaries and also supports members of the military and their families relying on Tricare. Medicare reimbursement rates dually apply to physicians providing care to Tricare patients. 

The Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act passed the House by 243-183 and will now move to the Senate. The bill will also attach and send to the Senate H.R. 2920, the Statuary PAYGO Act of 2009, passed by the House on July 22. Cuellar co-sponsored the Pay-As-You-Go legislation which restores spending rules to Congress to reduce the national deficit. 

“The PAYGO principle is simple: you can’t spend more than what you have,” said Cuellar. “Moving this legislation to the Senate will bring us one step closer to reigning in national spending and return our deficit to the surpluses of the nineties.” 

If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act and Statutory PAYGO would become law. 

For more information on H.R. 3961, please visit: http://docs.house.gov/rules/health/111_sgr1.pdf 

For more information on Statutory PAYGO, please visit: http://cuellar.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=138816 

•••••• 

Conn’s, Inc. to pay $4.5 million in restitution for violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday, November 24, resolved the state’s enforcement action against Conn’s, Inc. In May, Conn’s was charged with failing to honor product warranties, misleading customers about the nature of its products, false advertising and other violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. 

According to the state’s enforcement action – and information contained in more than 3,500 customer complaints – the defendant unlawfully relied on aggressive and deceptive sales tactics to increase its extended service warranty sales for appliances, electronics and other products. The agreement reached on November 24 requires Conn’s to reform its business practices and pay $4.5 million in restitution for its customers. 

“Just in time for the holiday shopping season, today’s agreement fundamentally reforms how Conn’s does business,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Under its agreement with the state, Conn’s must remedy its high pressure sales tactics, refrain from misleading customers about extended warranties, and fully honor the warranty agreements that it sells to customers. By redressing of improper conduct and setting aside restitution, this agreement benefits past, present and future Conn’s customers.” 

According to state investigators, Conn’s instructed sales personnel to rely on high-pressure tactics to “overcome objections” voiced by customers who declined to purchase extended warranties. The state’s May enforcement action also indicated that Conn’s failed to provide customers with a copy of the warranty agreement at the time of sale. As a result, purchasers were not adequately informed about exclusions, limitations, cancellation penalties and other provisions governing their warranty agreements. 

In an agreement reached on November 24, Conn’s agreed to provide customers a copy of the extended warranty agreement at the time of sale. Conn’s also must ensure that its sales personnel accurately represent rights, remedies or obligations contained in the extended warranty agreements. 

Under the November 24 agreement, Conn’s must also refrain from adding extended warranty or credit insurance products to customers’ invoices without their written consent. Extended warranty agreement provisions will protect existing customers because the agreement applies to both existing and future extended warranties. 

The state’s May enforcement action charged Conn’s with failing to fulfill its warranty obligations. According to customer complaints obtained by the Office of the Attorney General, Conn’s delayed repair appointments for weeks or even months, failed to repair items to working condition, ignored calls, and ultimately, refused to give refunds or replace the defective products. Today’s agreement stipulates if a product fails within 72 hours of purchase or delivery to a customer’s home, Conn’s must replace the product with an identical or similar model. If the product fails at the time of delivery, the Conn’s delivery team must remove the product and exchange it. 

Finally, the agreement requires Conn’s to compensate customers who were harmed by its unlawful content. As a result, Conn’s must pay $4.5 million to establish a customer restitution fund. Today’s agreement also requires Conn’s to pay $250,000 in attorney’s fees and $100,000 to the University of Houston Consumer Law Clinic. 

In the coming weeks, the Office of the Attorney General will review customer complaints and other data to determine how it will administer the restitution fund. Customers with questions should call (800) 252-8011 or visit the attorney general’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov

•••••• 

Congressman Cuellar announces $629,500 federal grant for energy efficiency programs in Mission

By EDDIE ZAVALA 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Friday, November 20, announced that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the City of Mission $629,500 to help the community improve its energy efficiency, reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions, and create green jobs locally.  

The grant is part of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program (EECBG) and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Specifically, the City of Mission will use grant funds to modify and upgrade 456 traffic signals at 28 intersections, 272 pedestrian walk signals, and 274 street lights with energy efficient lighting technologies.  

“Going green is the way of the future and I applaud Mayor Norberto Salinas and city commission members for taking an active approach in fostering these initiatives,” said Cuellar. “It is through these types of initiatives that we will have a better educated citizenry on the importance of helping conserve our planet.” 

The street light and the traffic signal upgrade will convert high pressure sodium and mercury vapor bulb to an LED bulb.  The pedestrian walk signals that currently have krypton-filled gas light bulbs will also be converted to an LED bulb throughout the city.  

Street lighting upgrades and improvements will cover the entire city limits along U.S. Expressway 83 for approximately 5.4 miles, both east- and west-bound. 

Funding for the EECBG Program under the Recovery Act totals $3.2 billion, of which approximately $2.7 billion will be awarded through formula grants to more than 2,300 cities, counties, states, and Indian tribes nationwide. In addition, more than $400 million will be delivered through competitive grants.  

Share This

Share this post with your friends!