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Leaders with the Renaissance Cancer Foundation on Wednesday, July 28, received a check totaling $3,500 on behalf of employees of Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa to help area patients. The money is part of the District Clerk Office’s Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign, which benefits local charitable organizations. The Renaissance Cancer Foundation is a private, non-profit organization established to help local cancer patients with the medical needs and emotional challenges related to the illness. “We are delighted to contribute to the Renaissance Cancer Foundation to assist in their efforts in addressing the needs of cancer patients in our region,” said Hinojosa. “We encourage other organizations to give of their time and/or money to this important endeavor. Together, our contributions can help make cancer services and education more accessible to the many friends and families who are affected by this disease and the community at large.” Featured, front row, from left: McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who also serves as DHR General Counsel; Yadhira Y. Huerta, Cancer Care Coordinator; Norma Cavazos-Salas, D.O., Chief-of-Staff; and Sandra Yañez, Radiation Oncologist Director. Featured, back row, from left: Mario Lizcano, DHR Marketing Director; Chico Meyer, DHR Associate Administrator; and Ricardo Contreras, Chief of Administration and Public Information, Hidalgo County District Clerk Office. See story later in this posting.

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South Texas College students Juan Solis, Ariana Castellanos and Marisela Chávez show off the college’s 2010 summer enrollment figures in front of registration lines as the college gears up for an equally busy fall semester. Approximately 16,457 students took advantage of summer 2010 classes at STC, an increase of 3,820 students over the summer 2009 enrollment of 12,637 students. Geographically, the college saw large increases in summer enrollment at several of its campus locations. Summer enrollment was up 62 percent at the Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco, 26 percent at its Pecan Campus in McAllen and 42 percent at its Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City. See story later in this posting. 

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María Medina, featured right, Director of Operations for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV (Rio Grande Valley), on Thursday, July 22, was chosen as the 2010 Administrator of the Year for the South Texas Professional Association RGV Chapter. “It was such an honor and surprise to be selected for the award, considering the high caliber of club professionals that were nominated,” Medina said. “I know the value of working with youth and have spent more than three decades championing youth development for our kids.” The Administrator of the Year award recognizes a Boys and Girls Clubs professional who holds the title, duties and responsibilities of an executive director, assistant executive director, or director of operations within their organization, and who has made a significant contribution to the work of the Boys & Girls Clubs profession while in their current position. Teresa Walch, featured left, the Southwest Regional Vice President Boys & Girls Clubs of America, made the presentation to Medina. See story later in this posting.

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Kimberly Ann Rodríguez of Edinburg this summer in Houston participated in the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine (NYLF/MED), considered the nation’s foremost program in pre-medical education for high school students. Rodríguez, daughter of Johnny and Melissa Rodríguez, was joined with other high school students from around the country who demonstrate academic excellence, leadership potential and an interest in a career in medicine. NYLF/MED introduces outstanding high school students to the world of medicine. This 10-day program familiarizes students with professionals from some of the nation’s top medical centers and faculty from renowned institutions of learning. See story later in this posting.

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Someone will walk away with $100,000 in their pocket from the Jalapeño Golf Classic, hosted by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, on Saturday, August 28 at Los Lagos Golf Course in Edinburg. To qualify for the $100,000 Shootout, a contestant must be a participant of the Jalapeño and be an amateur player. Men will drive from 165 yards while women from 150 yards. Two lucky people will get to participate in the hole-in-one event. Sponsoring the $100,000 Shootout event is Deutsch & Deutsch of McAllen/Laredo. Featured at Los Lagos Golf Course promoting the event are, from left: Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, the president and chief executive officer for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce;  Pres/CEO; Donna Saccomanno; John Haley, the Los Lagos golf pro; Ruth McCollough; Hector González; and Chuy Negrete, chair of the Jalapeño Golf Classic. More information on the golf classic or the $100,000 Shootout are available by calling the MHCC office at 928-0060.

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Hidalgo County Judge-Elect Ramón García on Monday, July 19, addressed the need for the Valley to have an extra congressional district during testimony he presented at the McAllen Convention Center before state lawmakers, including Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco. The Mid-Valley lawmaker, who was appointed Chairman of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Subcommittee on Redistricting, said the stakes – and potential payoff – are high for South Texans in next spring’s legislative battle on legislative redistricting. "Make no mistake about it – we are talking about billions of dollars in additional state and federal funds for deep South Texas over the next 10 years – and it all revolves around a map-drawing process called legislative redistricting, where the boundaries of congressional, state senatorial, and state representative districts are created," said Martínez. "Even for people who could care less about politics, the stakes are enormous, especially for the Valley, which could gain power and money for every important program, from education to transportation to heath care." In the case of the Valley, one of the fastest-growing areas of Texas, the area is in good shape to get a new congressional district, with western Hidalgo County – including McAllen and Mission – and Starr County serving as the population base, he envisioned. See lead story in this posting.

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Redistricting could be a treasure map for South Texas, McAllen and Mission, says Rep. Martínez

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

When the Texas Legislature returns to work next spring, one of the biggest political prizes to be won will be the stuff from which legends and fortunes are made: a figurative and literal treasure map known as redistricting, says Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco.

"Make no mistake about it – we are talking about billions of dollars in additional state and federal funds for deep South Texas over the next 10 years –  and it all revolves around a map-drawing process called legislative redistricting, where the boundaries of congressional, state senatorial, and state representative districts are created," said Martínez. "Even for people who could care less about politics, the stakes are enormous, especially for our region, which could gain power and money for every important program, from education to transportation to heath care."

In the case of the Valley, one of the fastest-growing areas of Texas, the area is in good shape to get a new congressional district, with western Hidalgo County – including McAllen and Mission – and Starr County serving as the population base, he envisioned.

Martínez, who serves as Chairman of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Subcommittee on Redistricting, says he and other fellow Valley lawmakers will be working hard during the upcoming regular session of the Texas Legislature, which begins in January, to help carve a map that includes a new congressional district for deep South Texas.

Next spring, those new boundaries for congressional, state senate, and state representative districts must be approved by the Texas Legislature and the governor, and meet strict federal laws that protect Texans’ voting rights, before the plan becomes a reality.

The new legislative districts are decided by several key factors, but most importantly, by the population growth of a region. The more people who live in a region, the more likely they will get additional legislative seats, from Congress to the Texas Legislature.

Valley residents can help their own cause

Martínez said area residents can also help the Valley’s cause in the coming months by calling on the two major candidates for Texas governor – incumbent Rick Perry, a Republican, and former Houston mayor Bill White, a Democrat – to go on the record to support a new congressional district for the Valley.

"No matter in which political party you belong or you are an Independent, if you live in the Valley, when Mr. Perry and Mr. White campaign in our area, ask them if they would use the power of the gubernatorial veto to kill any redistricting plan that does not include a new congressional district for the Valley," said Martínez. "If they don’t make that promise, or if they dodge the question, they are not on our side, and they don’t deserve our vote. It’s simple as that."

The governor has the power to veto (kill) any bill approved by the Texas Legislature, including any congressional redistricting plan, and it is very difficult for state lawmakers to come up with enough votes to overturn a veto.

"When a governor uses a veto, he can call the Legislature back into what is called a special legislative session, where the governor is in a much better position to strike a deal that would help Texas – and in the case of congressional redistricting, help the Valley," Martínez said.

Summary of the Redistricting Process

The Texas Legislative Council, which is the research arm of the Texas Legislature, provides the following summary of the legislative redistricting process:

Every decade presents different challenges and reflects the wills of the various players involved during that period. The history of the redistricting process during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s illustrates some of the different courses decennial redistricting can take. The timing and legal requirements, however, dictate that the basic process will likely take the following course, which is described in more detail in the associated sections.

During 2010, the legislative committees with redistricting jurisdiction may hold public hearings around the state. The April 1, 2010, census population data will be delivered to the legislature no later than April 1, 2011, and perhaps a month earlier. As soon as the data is loaded in the computer systems, the members of the Legislature, their designees, and other interested parties will begin drawing plans. Bills to enact new redistricting plans will follow the same path through the Legislature as other legislation.

If the Legislature fails to redistrict the Texas Senate or House during the 82nd Legislature, Regular Session, or the governor vetoes a house or senate redistricting bill, the Texas Constitution requires that the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB) meet and adopt its own plan. Any legislative or LRB plan must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If the Legislature fails to pass a congressional or State Board of Education plan or the plan is vetoed, the governor may call a special session to consider the matter. If the governor does not call a special session, then a state or federal district court would draw the plan.

A suit against an adopted redistricting plan may be brought at any time under the federal or state constitution or federal law. Note that plans drawn by a federal court do not need to obtain Section 5 pre-clearance, while plans drawn by a state court do require preclearance.

The filing deadline for the 2012 primary elections allows approximately seven months from the end of the regular legislative session for the governor to act on any redistricting legislation passed, for the LRB to meet if necessary, for any special session called to consider redistricting if necessary, for obtaining pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, for court action, and for counties to make necessary changes in county election precincts.

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Keep much of McAllen, northern Sharyland in House District 41, testifies local GOP leader

By STEPHINE LACY

(Editor’s note: The following remarks were delivered in McAllen on Monday, July 19, before the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Subcommittee on Redistricting, chaired by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco.)

Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you for making a hearing in Hidalgo County a priority in this redistricting process. 

My name is Stephine Lacey. I am a voting citizen of Mission.

I was asked by Javier Villalobos, the Hidalgo County Republican Chair, to extend his welcome to our county.  Mr. Villalobos is out of town on a family vacation that was planned long before this committee hearing was called. But my remarks are reflective of his opinions. 

As has been noted numerous times, Hidalgo County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. We are the eighth-most populous county in Texas. While the projections show that the state will grow at a rate of 19 percent in this census cycle, it has been estimated that our county might grow as much as 30 percent. Given that, it is likely that all of our districts, state and federal, will need to be adjusted for growth. 

However, I ask that in the adjustments, attention be given to keeping House District 41 as a homogenous district reflective of the central population of McAllen and northern Sharyland. Since the creation of the district, these precincts have consistently voted conservatively in all top ballot races by over 50 percent.

Likewise, the district is made up of urban professional, educated business leaders who have a common interest in issues such as school districts, taxes on both residential and business property, changes in restrictions or taxes on small businesses, even traffic patterns. 

The population of the central part of House District 41 will sustain one House district in itself. 

Representative (Aaron) Peña (D-Edinburg) has publicly opined that our county may be granted an additional (state) House district. If this is the case, it would be more advantageous to create a district of the southern and western parts of the county which share more agricultural, border security, elderly health care,  and school district interests than to parse precincts out of central House District 41. 

The entirety of the county has a sufficient population of Hispanics that any division that keeps the key communities together, and undivided, will fulfill the racial minority requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Matter of a fact, the Census Bureau estimates that the county population of Hispanics is 89.6 percent.

Others will comment during this hearing regarding the shifting of borders of state senate districts. 

By running out long districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, you may spread out the minority majority voting population into multiple districts, but you dilute the ability to address community specific concerns. These boundaries are also of upmost importance in gaining adequate representation of Hidalgo County that is not diluted or distracted by the needs of counties northern to us whose populations do not share the unique issues of living along the border with a mixture of successful international professional and agricultural businesses. 

While I could easily converse on these issues for much longer, I appreciate the time allotted to me in this hearing. 

Thank you for coming to Hidalgo County.

(House District 41 currently includes southwest Edinburg, all but southwest McAllen, the northeastern and central portions of Mission, all of Palmhurst, Sharyland, Alton, and western portions of Hidalgo County. Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rebecca Cervera, R-McAllen, are seeking that legislative seat in the November 2010 general election.)

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After Senate rejection, U.S. House again passes $701 million funding bill for border security

By ASHLEY PATTERSON

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, Congressman Ciro D. Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, and Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, on Thursday, July 29, released the following statement after the House passed late Wednesday, July 28, $701 million in emergency federal funding to further secure the nation’s southern border.

“At a time when our neighbor to the south, Mexico, is experiencing high incidents of border violence along the more than 1,200 miles of Texas-Mexico border, we approved a measure that would provide much-needed funding for border security and will augment our current security efforts by adding more Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, as well as deliver other support for local law enforcement. We will remain engaged in this debate with our colleagues in Congress and the White House to ensure we allocate the much-needed funding.”

The $701 million in emergency border security funding now pending approval in the Senate includes:

• $208.4 million for 1,200 additional Border Patrol agents deployed between the ports of entry along the Southwest border;

• $136 million to maintain current Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer staffing levels and

add 500 additional officers at ports of entry along the Southwest border;

• $35.5 million for improved tactical communications on the Southwest border, three permanent

Border Patrol forward operating bases, and a surge of workforce integrity investigations designed to

prevent corruption among CBP officers and agents;

•$50 million for Operation Stonegarden grants to support local law enforcement activities on the

border;

•$32 million to procure two additional Customs and Border Patrol unmanned aircraft systems;

• $30 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement activities directed at reducing the threat

of narcotics smuggling and associated violence; and

• $201 million for Justice Department programs.

A few days earlier, Cuellar, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border,

Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, joined six other southern border lawmakers in the U.S.

House of Representatives to urge House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer to introduce a

stand-alone bill with at least $701 million in emergency federal funding for the nation’s southern

border. 

In a letter addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, the Border Caucus members urged their colleagues to bring an emergency bill to the floor following the Senate’s rejection of critical border funds late last week as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 Supplemental Funding Bill. 

Now, the emergency funding measure passed by the House awaits approval in the Senate before it can be signed into law by the President. 

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Congressman Hinojosa, Congressman Cuellar voted for measure signed by President Obama that extends federal unemployment benefits through November 30

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, July 23, voted to stand with American families and extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who have earned them through a lifetime of work and lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Republicans in the Senate blocked these benefits for more than seven weeks, causing 2.5 million American families to lose the benefits they earned.

On July 23, Hinojosa said he stood up to that obstruction and secured this lifeline for the people of Texas who desperately need it. The benefits are a proven boost to the American economy, shown by economists to create jobs as families spend into the economy. 

“Now is the time every American must help their fellow Americans, especially those of us in Congress,” said Hinojosa. “While some in Congress turned their backs on millions of American families as they struggled to make ends meet, I along with my fellow Democrats am standing up for our American families and our economy by making sure the unemployed have the benefits they’ve worked so hard for.” 

This bill extends the Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs through November 30, 2010 and retroactively restores benefits to some people who already lost theirs. 

“Today we moved this bill through the House to provide immediate relief to millions of Americans and thousands of Texas families who rely on this assistance in these tough economic times,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen. “This assistance will go to many of our neighbors throughout Texas who struggle to find employment as our economy recovers. It is vitally important to help these families.” 

According to the Department of Labor, more than 151,000 Texans will benefit from the emergency extension passed in the House today. Millions of Americans stopped receiving jobless benefits seven weeks ago after the Senate failed to pass a House-passed bill to extend the unemployment aid. On Wednesday, July 22, the Senate passed the unemployment bill, and President Obama has signed the measure into law.

“These are still trying times for thousands of Texans,” said Congressman Cuellar. “As we see signs of economic progress, we can’t leave behind those hurting families who still seek employment in this tough job market. These jobless benefits help these families and in turn help stimulate our economic recovery.” 

Extending unemployment benefits is not only good for the unemployed; it is also one of the best and fastest ways to stimulate the economy, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Unemployment benefits were responsible for creating more than 1 million jobs since the recession started, and adding almost 2 percent to the gross domestic product according to the Economic Policy Institute.  In fact, every dollar in unemployment benefits creates $1.61 in economic activity, according to Economist and former John McCain advisor, Mark Zandi. 

“We can no longer accept the ideas of those who brought us down to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” said Hinojosa. “I know that the best way to help the American people is to keep our economy going strong and on the right track and that means continuing to create new jobs all across our country.  That’s why I fought to extend unemployment benefits for the people of Texas.” 

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Measure filed by Sen. Cornyn to help combat disease that threatens Texas citrus industry

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Wednesday, July 22, announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation to direct funding to the research of citrus diseases, with specific emphasis on putting a stop to the Citrus Greening disease, which has destroyed 100,000 citrus acres in Florida and threatens to do similar harm in Texas if a cure is not discovered in the very near future.

Cornyn is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The Citrus Disease Research and Development Trust Fund Act will create a dedicated source of funds for researching citrus diseases at no cost to taxpayers. Cornyn’s legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-FL, and Diane Feinstein, D-CA.

“The Citrus Greening disease is catastrophic and is spreading. In just two years, Florida lost 100,000 acres of groves to the disease, and we do not want to see that happen in Texas. Texas growers have discovered the pest that carries the disease, and it is only a matter of time until the disease develops here," said Cornyn. “This problem is a ticking time bomb, and scientific research is the only way to stop it.”

 

The citrus greening disease is not only in Florida but also present in Louisiana to the east of Texas and has infected at least six states in Mexico, noted Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual.

“It is without a doubt the most serious disease that threatens the very survival of the Texas and the entire U.S. citrus industry. We are grateful to Senator Cornyn for sponsoring this critically important legislation because without new research based solutions there is no chance of stopping this disease,” Prewett said.

“We applaud Sen. Cornyn and others for proposing legislation that will provide long-term funding for citrus pest and disease research,” said Robert J. Underbrink, President/CEO of King Ranch, Inc. “This legislation is absolutely critical  to the protection of the entire U.S. citrus industry.”

According to supporters of the legislation:

   • The Citrus Greening disease is devastating because there is currently no cure.  Growers are force

to destroy and replant infected groves. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established

quarantine zones that severely limit the movement of live trees as a method of isolating the disease,

but it continues to spread; 

   • Texas scientists have identified the pest that carries the disease, but state-funded research has

been unable to develop a cure;

   • USDA has quarantined 30 Texas counties, barring citrus plants from being moved across state

lines into or out of these areas. Following this federally mandated quarantine, the State of Texas

quarantined all remaining counties to prohibit intrastate movement of trees;

• Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples estimates that the Texas citrus industry adds

over $120 million to the state’s economy and supports 2000 jobs — mainly in rural south and west

Texas along the Rio Grande River;

   • Scientists in Texas and other affected states are researching methods to eradicate the disease,

and Cornyn’s legislation would provide much-needed support to spur their research forward.

   • The funding for Cornyn’s legislation will come at no expense to taxpayers, as it will be

derived from existing duties that are collected on imported citrus products. The bill authorizes up

to $30 million in tariff diversions annually into the new citrus trust fund. 

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Pumping operations continue in Hidalgo County to deal with ongoing localized flooding

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

As of Wednesday, July 28, Hidalgo County was continuing to experience localized flooding in several locations near the interior levee, along drainage ditches and along the Rio Grande due to ongoing rainfall. The county’s priority is to provide relief to affected communities so operations continue with personnel working day and night. 

Hidalgo County Emergency Management reports that all local pumps are in commission, and several more have been requested and are in use from the state in coordination with the regional Public Works Task Force. An estimated 75 to 80 pumps have been deployed to strategic locations. Additionally, cities have their own pumping operations on the outskirts of their city limits.

“Drainage ditches that normally discharge into the interior floodway have been blocked off for several weeks because of the river diversion,” said Tony Peña, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator. “The drainage ditches are full, and the only way to relieve them is to pump the water from them over the levee into the floodway, which still has capacity. We have had those pumps deployed ever since Hurricane Alex; however, the pumping operation has ramped up significantly in the past two days due to the heavy rainfall we received — about two inches in some places.

“Eventually, as the weather improves and the pumping operations carry on, we will see water recede, giving some relief to the affected communities,” Peña added.

The U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission also announced on Wednesday, July 28, that releases from Falcón Dam would diminish to 53,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), down from 60,000 cfs, taking into account the recent rains. Nevertheless, residents should expect waters to remain in the floodway for another two to three weeks as long as another tropical event does not impact the area. River flooding seems to have stabilized, and now the most dynamic part of Hidalgo County’s continued disaster response is the dewatering operation, Peña said.

Hidalgo County Emergency Management is working closely with the state, IBWC, area cities, the regional Public Works Response Team and the Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1, all of which are supplying manpower and pumps for this operation. 

“While we work as a team to provide relief to impacted communities, we are asking residents to be patient and to remain aware of their surroundings, especially if they live near a drainage ditch,” said Godfrey Garza, Hidalgo County Drainage District Manager. “Flooding concerns should be reported to a person’s respective municipality, county precinct or emergency management office. Residents are also asked to stay off the levees and not to drive over any hoses. Tampering with gates also remains a problem, and we ask that people do not try to take this operation into their own hands. It is critical that our operations go according to plan to get the water out of our communities in the most expeditious manner as possible.” 

The latest flood event information can be found on the county’s website at:

http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us.

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Congressman Hinojosa addresses Congress on impact of flooding in the Rio Grande Valley 

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, July 27,  spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to update the Members of Congress of the flooding in deep South Texas and to thank them for providing federal resources to improve infrastructure along the border.

Hinojosa demonstrated through aerial photographs, offered by Hidalgo County, the areas where levees have held back the Rio Grande River thereby protecting cities from flooding. He also showed in comparison, flooded areas where no levees existed, adding that more work is needed.

Below is Hinojosa’s speech to Congress:  

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today for two reasons.  The first is to thank my colleagues and secondly to ask for their continued support. 

As many of you may know, Hurricane Alex hit South Texas the first week of July. It was followed by a subsequent tropical storm that dropped more than a foot of rain on my district. Even more rain fell in the mountains of Mexico. As a result, over the next two weeks, the Rio Grande River swelled to record levels causing flooding along the U.S. – Mexico border in Texas. The Texas border, from Laredo to Brownsville, is home to more than two million people. The international bridges in this region carry the bulk of U.S. land trade between the U.S. and Mexico 

The border region is primarily protected by a federal levee and floodway control system operated by the International Boundary and Water Commission. Although it is responsible for 500 miles of levees just on the U.S. side and seven dams, for decades it received approximately $5 million a year for maintenance. As a result, a Corps of Engineers assessment in 2005 showed that hundreds of miles of the levee system were inadequate, too low or too weak to be certified. In addition, several of the dams were of concern. 

When the report was published, my border colleagues and I knew we had to work hard and fast to protect the millions of people we represent. We began working with the IBWC, the Corp of Engineers and local officials to get the information we needed to make our case to Congress. We thought outside the box.  

Hidalgo County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, worked with the IBWC and the Department of Homeland Security to develop an ingenious plan to combine the federal effort to fix the levees with the effort to build the new border fence. The resulting border-wall concept met DHS’s criteria for a fence and reinforced the IBWC levees. County leaders believed so much in this project and its urgency that they raised bond money and gave millions to the IBWC to expedite the repairs even though these structures were totally a federal responsibility. Hidalgo County is one of the poorest in the nation and should not have had to spend their scarce resources on a federal project.  They deserve to be reimbursed.  

In Washington we met with appropriators from both sides of the aisle to make our case.  

I want to particularly thank Congressman Frank Wolf, Congressman David Price, Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congressman Obey for understanding the need and providing us with almost $400 million over the last four years to make repairs. As a result, the river levees in Hidalgo and Cameron were repaired. Dams and floodways near Presidio were repaired although not before we suffered flooding that cost the lives of the U.S. and Mexican heads of the International Boundary and Water Commission, who died in a helicopter crash while surveying the damage. All along the US-Mexico border, repairs have been made.

Despite historic river levels of 20 and 30 feet over flood stage, here is the floodway protected by the new levees. The cars on the new Anzaldúas Bridge show the daily traffic coming north from Mexico.  

Unfortunately, despite our progress and historic funding, IBWC floodways north of the river still have not been repaired. Levees in this area did not hold and communities were flooded.  

Record river water flows forced the IBWC to divert river water into the spillway that leads to the floodway. For weeks, water releases from all of the upstream dams were diverted into the floodway because there was too much water for the dams to hold back. The repaired levees held, but the unrepaired northern floodways did not. The record river flows have weakened dams like Amistad and Falcón which were of concern to the Corps back in 2005. Although they held this time, they may not the next time. 

In conclusion, I want to thank Congressman Ortiz, Congressman Cuellar, Congressman Reyes, Congressman Doggett, Congressman Rodríguez  and the other members of the Border Caucus for their help. I also want to thank all of the members of this body who responded to our pleas.  I urge you to help us finish the job and complete the system. 

Prevention is much less expensive than cleaning up after a natural disaster.  Thank you and I yield back my time.”

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Beverly Ashley-Fridie of Edinburg appointed by Gov. Perry to OneStar National Service Commission

Gov. Rick Perry recently appointed five members to the OneStar National Service Commission for terms to expire March 15, 2013. The commission works with the OneStar Foundation to further national service initiatives in Texas and administer the AmeriCorps Texas program.

Beverly Ashley-Fridie of Edinburg is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas –  Pan American. She is a member of the Texas Council of Women Executives, Texas-Pan American Chapter of Kappa Delta Honor Society in Education, and South Texas Literacy Coalition. She is also past president of the Edinburg Boys and Girls Club and past vice president of the Texas Community Foundation of the Rio Grande Valley, City of Edinburg Medical Advisory Committee, and Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. Ashley-Fridie received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston, a master’s degree in education from the Citadel Military College of South Carolina, and a doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Texas – Pan American. She is being reappointed.

Aranda Cooper of Nacogdoches is a graduate assistant for the Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) Office of Student Affairs. She is coordinator of Nacogdoches Service Saturday and co-coordinator of the Martin Luther King Day of Service and Big Event Service Project. She is also a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Fraternity, a volunteer with Nacogdoches Habitat for Humanity, and a past member of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and VISTA. Cooper received a bachelor’s degree and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in secondary education from SFASU.

Charlotte Keany of Colleyville is director of consulting for the Center for Nonprofit Management in Dallas. She is a partner with Dallas Social Venture Partners and a member of the Social Enterprise Alliance and Alliance for Nonprofit Management. Keany received a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University and a Master of Business Administration from West Texas State University.

Robert Scott of Austin, is the Texas Commissioner of Education. He is being reappointed.

Charles Wall of San Antonio is founder and CEO of Blue Ocean Discovery LLC. He is a member of the board of advisors of Optimal iQ and Lab Armor. Wall received a bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University. He is being reappointed.

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South Texas College sees 30 percent jump in summer enrollment to almost 16,500 students

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

As the heat continues blazing, South Texas College is showing red hot growth with a 30 percent increase in summer enrollment. Approximately 16,457 students took advantage of summer 2010 classes at STC, an increase of 3,820 students over the summer 2009 enrollment of 12,637 students.

“Students are taking advantage of the summer to get ahead,” said William Serrata, STC vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. “They know that taking summer classes will help them graduate earlier, saving time and money. And the fact that our classes are transferring not only to The University of Texas-Pan American, but to The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Baylor University, and even as far as Yale and Stanford, makes taking summer classes at your hometown community college more attractive than ever.” 

Geographically, the college saw large increases in summer enrollment at several of its campus locations. Summer enrollment was up 62 percent at the Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco, 26 percent at its Pecan Campus in McAllen and 42 percent at its Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City. 

STC’s Distance Learning Program also saw a big increase of 42 percent in student enrollment over summer 2010. The program allows students to earn a variety of associate degrees online including in business administration, criminal justice, education, interdisciplinary studies and social sciences, just to name a few.  

“We have also seen an increase in students returning to retrain for new career opportunities,” added Serrata. “It’s extremely important for community members to stay at the top of their game and taking classes to learn new skills puts workers in a better position. Also, we have seen many displaced workers looking to learn new skills sets and explore opportunities to begin a second or third career.” 

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

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UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College to become a tobacco-free campus on September 1

By LETTY  FERNÁNDEZ

In an ongoing effort to promote a healthy academic setting for the campus community, The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College will implement a Tobacco-free Campus policy effective September 1.

UTB/TSC is the first school in the UT System to go completely tobacco-free. UT-Arlington is scheduled to launch a tobacco-free policy in August 2011.

“I am pleased that we will become a tobacco-free campus beginning September 1,” said Dr. Eugenia Curet, director of Student Health Services. “We are joining a national trend. All tobacco products are harmful, and that includes secondhand smoke for nonsmokers.”

A campus-wide informational campaign regarding the tobacco policy is under way. Students attending summer orientations for incoming students are being advised of this new campus initiative.

An informational university page has been created for everyone to browse through information on the new policy, facts and figures on tobacco use and resources for those who wish to kick the tobacco habit.

Support for the initiative began in May when the Academic Senate, the governing body of the faculty, brought forth the language to implement the policy in the UTB/TSC Handbook of Operating Procedures.

“We want to be sensitive to smokers, former smokers and never-smokers in the implementation of the new policy,” said Dr. Bobbette Morgan, president of the Academic Senate. “Cessation programs and support groups are being organized as available resources.”

Since 1991, UTB/TSC has complied with The University of Texas System Board of Regents’ Resolution Regarding Tobacco-related Health Concerns that mandates all UT System campus buildings to be smoke-free.

The tobacco-free initiative takes the next step, stipulating that the campus be free of all tobacco products. The new policy will be in effect on all campus property, including the parking lots. The Staff Senate is overwhelmingly in favor of the initiative and has issued a resolution in favor of the policy.

“This initiative reflects a national trend regarding cigarette smoking and all types of tobacco use on the grounds, as well as inside the buildings, of higher education facilities,” said Roberto Cortinas, president of the Staff Senate, the governing body of UTB/TSC non-faculty employees.

There are now about 250 colleges and universities in the United States that prohibit smoking and all forms of tobacco use anywhere on campus.

“At Student Health Services, we encourage members of our campus community to seek treatment to stop smoking, and we implore them to never smoke around children. For those who are nonsmokers, I support you in standing up for your rights and asking others not to smoke in your presence,” said Curet.

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Eli Olivarez, president of Rio Grande Valley Stonewall Democrats, elected as openly gay man to State Democratic Executive Committee 

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

Eli Olivarez, president of the Rio Grande Valley Stonewall Democrats, on Thursday, June 24, was elected as an openly gay man to the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) by voting delegates of Senatorial District (SD) 20, which includes Brooks, Hidalgo, Jim Wells and Nueces counties. 

As an elected member of SDEC 20, Olivarez’s primary role will be to carry on the activities of the party between conventions and serve as a liaison between his district and the state party. 

“I am honored to have been elected to serve on the State Democratic Executive Committee,” said Olivarez. “By having a seat at the table we can work with our Democratic party and our community members to help elect pro-equality candidates who will ensure the same dignity and rights are afforded to everyone.” 

Three other Stonewall Democrats members from across the state were also elected to the SDEC.

The Stonewall Democrats are the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Caucus of the Democratic Party. The mission of the organization is to educate their community and involve them in the political process; mobilize their community to get out the vote to elect more pro-equality and fair-minded Democrats; and standing up to attacks not only to the LGBT community but all families and their civil rights.  

Stonewall delegates statewide were also successful in adopting a platform and resolutions that champion gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality and nondiscrimination on a variety of levels. This is in stark contrast to the State Republican Party Convention with recently adopted a platform that denounces homosexuality as “tearing at the fabric of society” and calls for the felony prosecution of anyone who performs a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples in Texas.  

For the first time, the 2010 State Democratic Party platform uses the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” in calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies against the LGBT community. The platform also advocates for anti-bullying policies in public schools, diversity in institutions for higher learning and competitive insurance benefits for LGBT employees at Texas Universities, passage of the Employment Non Discrimination Act, increased education initiatives and service to address HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and end to discrimination in the state foster care system, accurate birth certificates for same-sex parents of adopted children and strong enforcement of both federal and state hate crime laws and repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. Similar resolutions had been approved by previous conventions resolutions committees but never made the floor of the convention for a vote. 

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Lupe Chávez, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school board candidate, calls for boycott of TAKS test

to protest conditions in Las Milpas colonia

Lupe Chávez, Jr., a Place 3 candidate for Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District Board of Education, on Wednesday, July 28, announced his intention to organize a boycott of the TAKS test in response to Pharr’s Section 108 Loan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

TAKS is the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), a standardized test used in the state’s primary and secondary schools to assess students’ attainment of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. 

The proposed boycott will be aimed at all TAKS tests grades 3-9 (excluding the high school exit test), and week-long TAKS benchmark testing throughout the 2010-11 school year.  

“Although this announcement will make me an unpopular person, Las Milpas (milpas is Spanish for cornfield) has long been unpopular among the elected officials on the Pharr City Commission and PSJA School Board,” Chávez said. “This joint project between Pharr and PSJA reflects the historical treatment of Las Milpas families as second-class citizens.”  

The proposed loan includes spending $5.6 million on North Liberty Park construction, which will be located between Pharr Elementary and Liberty Middle School, and the West Hall Acres Road re-construction project. Community advocates believe the city can construct two swimming pools in Pharr for $5 million or commit funds to improving West Tomas Road in South Pharr.

“Additionally, I hope this boycott encourages the state legislature to adopt a non-exit level TAKS test moratorium in an effort to save money and balance the budget. Texas can save billions because millions are spent on TAKS remediation at all grade levels. Eliminating non-exit level testing is a viable solution to our economic crisis without sacrificing educational testing standards at important grade levels.”  

Participating students will provide a letter signed by their parents on August 23 and throughout the school year to teachers, asking for their support in modifying the city’s loan application to include a joint city/school park at a South Pharr school and improve West Tomas Road.  

“The social impact of PSJA teachers and principals failing to be community advocates for students and parents will reveal how much the Pharr community cares for Las Milpas,” Chávez added. “Are we actually part of the community, or are we simply a source of funding to improving the main Pharr town site? Are we just students or can we be your neighbor, too?”

According to Alicia A. Garza, writing for The Handbook of Texas Online, Las Milpas is a colonia, located off U.S. Highway 281 five miles south of Pharr, with more than 4,000 residents, which was annexed by the City of Pharr in 1987.

A colonia, which means neighborhood in Spanish, resulted when developers bought tracts of farm land and sold them unimproved to mostly poor, Mexican-Americans along the U.S.-Mexico border region, according to the State Energy Conservation Commission. Most colonias people people live without basic services taken for granted in the rest of the United States. These unincorporated, isolated settlements often lack water and sewer systems, electricity, health facilities, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing.

Texas is home to more colonias residents than any other state. Approximately 500,000 Texans live in 2,300 colonia communities along the 1,248-mile stretch from Cameron County on the Gulf of Mexico to El Paso County in the west.

Chávez explained that students will not be retained for participating in the boycott. Site-based committees can promote students based on their class work. Additionally, students can still qualify for advanced classes and GT programs based on a teacher’s recommendation.  

Las Milpas residents will be attending a public hearing on Thursday, August 5 at 5:30 p.m. at Pharr City Hall to address their concerns about the loan and begin preparing for a potential boycott, if as history dictates, Chávez contended, the city commission ignores their concerns.

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Attorney General Abbott challenges EPA’s refusal to allow Texas standards for companies to comply with Clean Air Act

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, July 26, filed a legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to disapprove the State’s Flexible Permits Program.

The state’s petition for reconsideration was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

Texas’ Flexible Permits Program was established in 1994 in an effort to incentivize grandfathered operations to voluntarily enter into the state’s air permitting and environmental regulation program. Facilities that were exempted because of their grandfathered status agreed to submit to state regulation because the program offered them operational flexibility. In exchange for emissions regulations, participants were authorized to allocate emissions on a facility-wide basis rather than by source point. The end result was a program that gave facilities greater flexibility and control – but that reduced emissions and complied with all state health standards, as well as all applicable federal Clean Air Act requirements.

At the time that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) established the Flexible Permits Program, Texas had a large number of “grandfathered” facilities that pre-dated the state’s permitting program, which did not begin until 1971. As the EPA acknowledges, neither the EPA nor the TCEQ had statutory authority to impose controls on – or require permits for – these grandfathered facilities.

Because of the Flexible Permits Program – and the enactment of Texas laws that later imposed mandatory permitting requirements – there are no longer any grandfathered facilities in Texas. In contrast, multiple other states across the country are still home to facilities that are grandfathered and therefore exempt from both state and federal permitting requirements.

The TCEQ submitted its Flexible Permits Program rules to the EPA in 1994. Although the TCEQ has been issuing flexible permits without interference from the federal government since the first term of the Clinton Administration, the EPA rejected the rules and disapproved the Texas program on July 15, 2010.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA was required to act on Texas’ rules within one year. Yet the federal government waited more than a decade – three presidential administrations – to take action on and ultimately reject the TCEQ’s Flexible Permits Program rules. Despite the fact that more than a dozen years passed since the rules were first submitted, the TCEQ attempted to work with the Obama administration and resolve the new EPA administrator’s objections. On June 16, 2010, the commission promulgated draft rules that amended the Flexible Permits Program in an effort to resolve the federal government’s concerns. Despite TCEQ’s efforts, the EPA summarily disapproved the Texas program just one month after the State’s new proposed rules were published.

By rejecting Texas’  Flexible Permits Program, the EPA has unilaterally declared that the program is not in compliance with federal law. The EPA’s decision not only imposes significant uncertainty on entities that employ thousands of Texans, but it threatens the livelihood of their employees – who depend upon those facilities for their jobs. According to the Texas Governor’s Office, recent decisions by the EPA to extend federal control over the state threaten tens of thousands of Texas jobs.

The EPA’s decision also threatens a regulatory program that has successfully reduced harmful emissions in the State of Texas. Emissions data cited by the Governor’s Office indicates that the Texas clean air program achieved a 22 percent reduction in ozone and a 46 percent reduction in NOx, which outpaces the eight percent and 27 percent reductions that were recorded nationally.

The EPA opted to disapprove the State’s Flexible Permits Program and impose the federal government’s judgment on the State despite Section 101 of the Clean Air Act, which provides that air pollution prevention “is the primary responsibility of the States and local governments.” Section 110 of the Act provides a similar admonishment to respect the states’ authority, stipulating that “[e]ach State shall have the primary responsibility for assuring air quality within the entire geographic area comprising such State.”

The Texas Attorney General’s Office filed the July 26 legal action against the EPA on behalf of TCEQ in an effort to defend the state’s legal rights and challenge improper overreach by the federal government.

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Hidalgo County District Clerk’s office donates $3,500 to Renaissance Cancer Foundation

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

Staff members for Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa on Wednesday, July 28, presented a check totaling $3,500 to the Renaissance Cancer Foundation as part of the District Clerk’s Office Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign to benefit local charitable organizations.

The Renaissance Cancer Foundation is a private, non-profit organization established to help local cancer patients with the medical needs and emotional challenges related to the illness. 

“We are delighted to contribute to the Renaissance Cancer Foundation to assist in their efforts in addressing the needs of cancer patients in our region,” said Hinojosa. “We encourage other organizations to give of their time and/or money to this important endeavor. Together, our contributions can help make cancer services and education more accessible to the many friends and families who are affected by this disease and the community at large.”  

The Hidalgo County District Clerk’s office kicked off their charitable efforts in 2008 as part of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. The program, which allows department staff to wear jeans every Friday in exchange for a $5 donation, has since then expanded their efforts through the creation of a “charitable organizations list” of which staff randomly selects a recipient every six months. Over the past two years the district clerk office has collected more than $14,000,  which has gone to local charitable organizations in Hidalgo County. 

“The Renaissance Cancer Foundation is honored to have been selected as the recipient of the Hidalgo County District Clerk Office workplace fundraising campaign,” said Marissa Castañeda, Renaissance Chief Operations Officer. “The main goal of our foundation is to help cancer patients with the medical and emotional challenges they are faced with by offering community outreach, education and awareness for cancer related illnesses throughout the Rio  Grande Valley. It is a privilege to know that other agencies among our community such as the Hidalgo County District Clerk Office are vested in promoting our local resident’s well-being as much as we are.  Together we will continue our commitment to our community’s health and well-being.”  

For more information on volunteer opportunities or making a contribution to the Renaissance Cancer Foundation, log on to http://www.dhr-rgv.com, or contact Castañeda, Chief Operations Officer at (956) 362-7360.

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María Medina with Boys & Girls Club on Edinburg RGV, receives top regional honor

María Medina, Director of Operations for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV (Rio Grande Valley), on Thursday, July 22, was chosen as the 2010 Administrator of the Year for the South Texas Professional Association RGV Chapter.   

“It was such an honor and surprise to be selected for the award, considering the high caliber of club professionals that were nominated,” Medina said. “I know the value of working with youth and have spent more than three decades championing youth development for our kids.” 

The Administrator of the Year award recognizes a Boys and Girls Clubs professional who holds the title, duties and responsibilities of an executive director, assistant executive director, or director of operations within their organization, and who has made a significant contribution to the work of the Boys & Girls Clubs profession while in their current position. 

“María is a leader in every sense of the word. Her vision and numerous accomplishments have elevated the awareness of Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV, and it is clear that her message of excellence, dedication, commitment and integrity is driven by true passion for helping kids reach their full potential,” said Sabrina Walker-Hernández, Chief Professional Officer for Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV.  

The Boys & Girls Club has played an integral role in the Edinburg community for 39 years, providing daily programs and services to over 16,000 young people. During the school year, the Club is open Monday through Friday from 3:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. During the summer, the hours are 7:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. 

Also during the summer the Teen Center is located at the Fountain Annex Center at 1210 E. Kuhn Street. The teen summer hours are 1 p.m. through 5 p.m. 

The club offers programs that emphasize character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and sport, fitness and recreation.

More information about joining the club or working on the staff is available by calling 956/383-2582 or by going online at http://www.edinburgkids.com.

Individuals or organizations which would like to make a financial contribution to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV may also contact Walker-Hernández at 956/383-2582 or via email at swalker@edinburgkids.com. A person may text "CLUB" to 20222 to donate $5. 

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Edinburg Rio Grande Valley is a City of Edinburg partner and Hidalgo County United Way Agency.  

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Kimberly Ann Rodríguez completes prestigious National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine

Kimberly Ann Rodríguez of Edinburg this summer in Houston participated in the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine (NYLF/MED), considered the nation’s foremost program in pre-medical education for high school students

Rodríguez, daughter of Johnny and Melissa Rodríguez, was joined with other high school students from around the country who demonstrate academic excellence, leadership potential and an interest in a career in medicine.

NYLF/MED introduces outstanding high school students to the world of medicine. This 10-day program familiarizes students with professionals from some of the nation’s top medical centers and faculty from renowned institutions of learning.

Throughout the 10-day forum, the NYLF/MED introduced Rodríguez to a variety of concepts in public health, medical ethics, research and general practice, and she also visited medical facilities, hospitals and universities. She was engaged in a simulation using problem-based learning, and educational method in which she was presented a fictional patient’s case history in order to diagnose and develop a treatment plan for the patient. She also faced the future of medicine in research labs.

The NYLF/MED creates a virtual classroom with hospitals, clinical facilities, universities and healthcare professionals. By shadowing key personnel, she had a great opportunity to gain a behind-the-scenes perspective on a medical career.

In addition to visiting cutting-edge medical schools and clinical facilities, Rodríguez had the opportunity to hear from and interact with leaders within the medical field.  She engaged in personal contact with physicians, surgeons, researchers, scientists and medical educators as she viewed these professionals at work.

Rodríguez had a great educational experience she viewed a live knee replacement surgery and open heart surgery. She was also able to handle cadavers and she was given the opportunity to collaborate on all these procedures with the surgeons that performed them. She also received college credits for the great experience she had in Houston.

With close cooperation from many prestigious and technologically-advanced hospitals, research facilities and medical schools, the Forum challenges students to learn about a broad range of topics, including educational requirements, career options, clinical practice and complex ethical and legal issues facing the medical profession today. Students discuss global epidemics, cures for life-threatening diseases, life as a resident, medical specialties and primary care with current physicians and patients.

Each program culminates in a simulation that challenges students to consider a specific issue in public health and to present pertinent recommendations for achieving public awareness and concern for each issue.

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The Latino digital divide: U.S. native born Hispanics lead immigrants on the Internet 

By MARY SEABORN

When it comes to the use of technology among Latinos, nativity plays an important role.

Internet use and cell phone use are much higher among native-born Latinos than among foreign-born Latinos. And among young Latinos ages 16 to 25, the native born are more likely than the foreign born to use mobile technology to communicate daily with their friends. These findings emerge from two new analyses of a nationwide survey of Latinos ages 16 and older by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. 

Fully 85 percent of native-born Latinos go online while just half of foreign-born Latinos do so. And when it comes to cell phone use among Latinos, 80 percent of the native born use one, compared with 72 percent of the foreign born.

Results also reveal that use of a cell phone or the Internet among adult Hispanics still significantly lags behind non-Hispanics. Among those ages 18 and older, only 64 percent of Latinos go online, compared with 78 percent of non-Latinos. An ethnic gap exists in cell phone use as well – about three-fourths (76 percent) of adult Latinos use a cell phone, compared with 86 percent of non-Latinos. These findings are in the The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born versus the Foreign Born report.

A second report that focuses on Latino youth, How Young Latinos Communicate with Friends in the Digital Age, finds that Latinos ages 16 to 25 use mobile technology to communicate and socialize with their friends more than other technologies. However, the native born are far more likely than the foreign born to send texts (65 percent versus 26 percent) and to use a cell phone (55 percent versus 29 percent) to communicate daily with their friends.

Both reports are based on the 2009 National Survey of Latinos, which was conducted from August 5 through September 16, 2009 among a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 2,012 Hispanics ages 16 and older. The survey was conducted in both English and Spanish, on cellular as well as landline telephones.  

Hispanics are the nation’s largest and youngest minority ethnic group. In 2008, there were 46.9 million Hispanics in the U.S., representing 15.4 percent of the total U.S. population. Among young people, Hispanics represent an even larger share. Some 18 percent, or 7.5 million, of those ages 16 to 25 are Hispanic.

The reports, The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born versus the Foreign Born,  authored by Gretchen Livingston, Senior Researcher, Pew Hispanic Center, and How Young Latinos Communicate with Friends in the Digital Age, authored by Mark Hugo López, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center and Gretchen Livingston, are available at the Pew Hispanic Center’s website, http://www.PewHispanic.org.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, is a nonpartisan, non-advocacy research organization based in Washington, D.C. and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Edinburg Market Days to kick off on Saturday, August 14

By EVANA VLECK

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and the Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau will hold “Edinburg Market Days” Saturday, August 14, from 8 a.m to 2 p.m. Edinburg Market Days will be held at the Town Square across from the Court House. Please note that days may be subject to change due to weather conditions. 

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is currently accepting vendors for Market Days; registration fee is only $25; deadline to register is Friday, August 6th, 2010 by 5pm.  For those interested in being a vendor, set up time will be between 6am-7:45 am, as tear down time will be at 2pm on the day of the event.

“Edinburg Market Days will be a monthly event that will revitalize our downtown area by boosting the downtown merchant’s economy, encourage and assist the small entrepreneur in our community and provide fun monthly family entertainment” noted Edna Pena, Board of Director for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and Market Days committee member.

Market Days is a free quality of life event for all to enjoy. Various items will be sold from fresh produce, to new, slightly used and antique items.  If you are interested in serving on the Market Days Committee please contact Imelda Rodriguez at 956-383-4974.

Please call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956-383-4974 or sign onto http://www.edinburg.com for more information or to register.

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Edinburg couple charged by U.S. government for conspiracy to commit health care fraud

By ANGELA DODGE

A 13-count superseding indictment charging Romelia Sánchez Puig, 41, of Edinburg,  and two staff members of the Mission Clinic in Mission with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud arising from a scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid from the operation of two clinics and mail fraud has been returned by a Corpus Christi grand jury, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced on Thursday, July 29.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.

A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. 

The two Mission Clinic staff members, Eliza Lozano Lumbreras, 63, and San Juanita Gallegos Lozano, 54, both of Mission, were arrested and were expected to appear before a U. S. Magistrate Judge in McAllen.

Puig was originally indicted along with her husband, Manuel Anthony Puig, 44, of Edinburg, on March 9, 2010, charged with health care fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud arising from their operation of the La Hacienda Family Clinic in Mission.

The superseding indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on July 27, 2010, adds Lumbreras and Lozano as defendants to each of the original counts alleged in the first indictment along with Romelia Puig and adds charges accusing Lumbreras and Lozano of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and five new counts of health care fraud arising from the operation of the Mission Clinic.

The superseding indictment also charges all three defendants with four additional counts of mail fraud arising from the operation of both clinics. The Medicare program is also identified as a victim of the alleged fraud scheme.  

Puig, along with her husband, a physician assistant, operated La Hacienda Family Clinic in Mission.

By state law, as a physician assistant, Manuel Puig was required to have a licensed physician supervising his work and delegating responsibilities to him. The original indictment accused the Puigs of fraudulently using the Medicaid provider number of R.J.P., a medical doctor who owned the Mission Clinic in Mission to fraudulently bill Medicaid for services performed by Manuel Puig without required delegation of authority nor supervision. 

The federal government only identified the doctor by the initials R.J.P.

According to the indictment, R.J.P.’s physical and mental condition prevented him from practicing medicine, and R. J. P. had not delegated authority to the Manuel Puig to see patients nor did he supervise Manuel Puig’s activities, yet beginning in or about May 1, 2005, through on or about January 10, 2006, Manuel Puig provided medical care and services for Medicaid beneficiaries without the authority or the supervision of R.J.P.  ]

During the same time period, the Puigs alleged sent 6,000 claims to Medicaid fraudulently using the Texas Medical provider number for R.J.P.  Medicaid paid more than $173,000 as a result of these claims.

The superseding indictment alleges that between September 2001 and January 2006, R. J. P. was physically and mentally unable to practice medicine but that his office staff, Lumbreras and Lozano, kept the Mission Clinic open for patient care. Despite R.J.P.’s inability to practice medicine, the superseding indictment alleges Lumbreras and Lozano took him to the Mission Clinic where they placed him in an office while Lumbreras saw and treated patients. Neither Lumbreras or Lozano were licensed to provide any medical services. 

Between September 2001 and January 2006, Lumbreras and Lozano allegedly submitted bills to the Medicare and Medicaid programs which fraudulently claimed that R.J.P. had provided patients with over 7,000 medical benefits, items or services when in fact those services had been provided by Lumbreras or not at all. Medicare and Medicaid paid over $195,000 on those claims. 

The indictment further alleges that Lumbreras and or Lozano arranged for Manual Anthony Puig to operate La Hacienda Family Clinic in Alton, beginning in April 2005 and to send bills to Medicare and Medicaid using the provider number of R.J.P. 

Romelia Puig allegedly did the billing for her husband and La Hacienda Clinic and also gave billing advice to Lumbreras and Lozano.   

Lumbreras, according to the indictment, had power of attorney over R.J.P.’s finances and was able to obtain control over the money Medicare and Medicaid paid for the fraudulent bills submitted from the Mission and La Hacienda clinics, which was divided among Lumbreras, Lozano, and the Puigs. The clinic operated by the Puigs and the clinic operated by Lumbreras and Lozano are no longer in operation.

  

Conspiracy to commit health care fraud, and each count of health care fraud carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment upon conviction. Mail fraud carries a maximum punishment of 20 years imprisonment upon conviction. Maximum fines of $250,000 fine can also be imposed upon conviction for each count. 

On  July 23, 2010, Manuel Anthony Puig pleaded guilty before Chief United States District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa to the conspiracy charge of the original incitement and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conviction. Manuel Puig, who is not charged in the superseding indictment, remains on bond pending an October 26, 2010 sentencing hearing.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with the assistance and cooperation of the Mission Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Casey N. MacDonald and Special Assistant United States Attorney Rex G. Beasley are prosecuting the case.

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Physician assistant Manuel Anthony Puig, 44,  pleads guilty to conspiracy to defraud Medicaid

By ANGELA DODGE

Manuel Anthony Puig, 44, an area physician assistant, has plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the Texas Medicaid program, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced on Monday, July 26. 

Puig, doing business as Puig Medical Services, operated La Hacienda Family Clinic, near Alton.

Indicted by a federal grand jury on March 9, 2010, for health care fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud, Puig pleaded guilty before Chief United States District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa on Friday, July 23, 2010, to the conspiracy charge and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conviction.

By state law, as a physician assistant, Puig is required to have a licensed physician supervising his work and delegating responsibilities to him. At the July 26 hearing, Puig admitted that in 2005, he joined an ongoing conspiracy with others to submit claims to the health care benefit program known as the Texas Medicaid program. 

Puig admitted fraudulently using the Medicaid provider number of R.J.P., a medical doctor who, for some time before 2005 until his death, was physically and mentally unable to practice medicine nor provide any health care benefits, items or services; who did not delegate authority to Manuel Puig to provide any health care benefits, items or services; and who did not supervise Puig’s attempts to provide health care benefits, items or services.

Puig admitted that he furthered the conspiracy by submitting, or allowing others to submit, a written notice with the Texas State Board of Physician Assistant Examiners that fraudulently claimed that R.J.P. would supervise his attempts to provide health care benefits, items and services at La Hacienda Family Clinic.

Thereafter, Puig operated La Hacienda Family Clinic without supervision from R.J.P. or any other licensed physician and then submitted claims, or aided and abetted others in the submission of claims, to Medicaid under the Medicaid provider number of R.J.P. for health care benefits, services or items which were not provided by R.J.P.; were not authorized, ordered or supervised R.J.P.; were not provided by a licensed person; or were not provided at all.

Puig admitted that for the period of time beginning on or about May 1, 2005, through on or about Jan. 10, 2006, he provided medical care and services for Medicaid beneficiaries without the authority or the supervision of R.J.P., signed an affidavit sent to the Texas Medical Board in January 2006 – falsely claiming he had been assisting R.J.P., that there had been communications between them and that he believed R.J.P was mentally capable of practicing medicine.

Puig admitted that he submitted or caused to be submitted over  6,000 claims to Medicaid fraudulently using the Texas Medical provider number for R.J.P. for which Medicaid paid the approximately $173,830.56 between May 2005 and January 2006.

The clinic operated by Puig is no longer in operation. Puig remains free on bond of $174,000 pending sentencing scheduled for October 26, 2010.

Puig’s wife, Romelia Sánchez Puig, 41, who allegedly acted as the biller for the clinic she and her husband operated and is also charged for her alleged involvement in the health care fraud scheme, remains on bond pending trial on the charges pending against her.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Casey N. MacDonald and Special Assistant United States Attorney Rex G. Beasley are prosecuting the case.

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