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Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, featured second from left, on Thursday, August 12, announced that more that $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education had been awarded to South Texas College to help support STC’s campus-based child care programs, which primarily serve the needs of low-income students enrolled at any STC campuses in McAllen, Rio Grande City, and Weslaco. Cuellar, an attorney whose extensive educational career includes earning an associate’s degree from Laredo Community College, met with STC and area leaders during his swing through McAllen. Featured, from left, were STC leaders who accepted a symbol of the $1,002,156 grant: Juan Mejia, STC’s vice president for academic affairs; Congressman Cuellar; Verónica Rodríguez, chair of STC’s Child and Family Development Program, and Luzelma Canales, interim associate dean for STC’s Community Engagement and Workforce Entitlement.   

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McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz practices a grito (Spanish for a war cry, which was used by Mexicans during the battle for independence from Spain, a two-year revolution which began on September 16, 1810) in anticipation on the upcoming first annual 16 de Septiember Fiesta, scheduled for Saturday, September 18, and sponsored by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, featured with the mayor, said the Mexican independence day celebration – the first for the organization – will be held at the McAllen Convention Center’s pond area from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. The 16 de Septiembre Fiesta will feature live entertainment, different vendors with food, crafts, clothing, jewery, etc. and a Kiddie Land for youngsters. Along with the live entertainment, there will be a talent contest for dancers or musicians and a grito de independencia contest. Participants in the talent show will get three minutes to perform. Participants in the grito contest will be judged by their gusto (passion) in their grito. Both competitions will have 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners.  The South Padre Island Bike Fest will also participate with a poker run, field events and bike show. Vendors are still needed as well as entertainment for the main stage.  Additional information on the 16 de Septiembre Fiesta is available by contact the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 928-0060.

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Auditions for the Spanish language play Una Huelga Singular, written by José Manuel Álvarez, will be held on Tuesday, August 24 and Wednesday, August 25 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Pharr Literacy Project & Cultural Arts Center, located at 203 West Park Avenue in Pharr. The comedic yet poignant play is set around the household of Teresa Pacheco, who is about to have a breaking point due to her abusive family, especially her husband, the tyrannical Rafael Pacheco. The play, to be directed by Pedro García, seeks four women and four men ranging in ages 13 to 75. No appointments necessary and tryouts will be cold reading from the script. The production will have nearly a dozen performances spread out from October to January, including several outreach tours around the Valley. Persons interested in being understudies are also encouraged to audition. For more information call 956/655-9308 or 956/783-7746. Pharr Community Theatre actors featured here, waiting to go onstage earlier this year for another play, Bless Me Ultima, are, from left: Anna Mardiros, Inocente  Gutiérrez, Raúl López and Armandina Sesin.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, featured first from left, who is facing a challenge in November from Rebecca Cervera, the Republican nominee for the House District 41 House seat, had more than $195,000 in her campaign war chest as of June 30, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. House District 41 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. According to Gonzáles’ campaign finance report, the three-term lawmaker received $164,708.22 in financial contributions and spent $62,622.57 during the first six months of this year. With money forwarded from previous years, Gonzáles was able to maintain a balance of $195,349.34 as of June 30. She did not have any outstanding loans as of June 30. In this photograph, Gonzáles posed with area, state and federal leaders following her participation in a recent legislative luncheon hosted by the local chamber of commerce. Featured, front row, from left: Rep. Gonzáles, Edna Peña, Marissa Castañeda, Lucy Canales, Mari Garza Bird and Armando Díaz. Featured, back row, from left: Flo Prater, Eduardo Parra, and Ana García. See lead story on Gonzáles’ campaign report activities in this posting.

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Rep. Gonzáles reelection bid fueled by almost $196,000 in campaign cash

By DAVID A. DÍAZ   

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who is facing a challenge in November from Rebecca Cervera, the Republican nominee for the House District 41 House seat, had more than $195,000 in her campaign war chest as of June 30, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.

House District 41 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.

However, the status of Cervera’s political resources, including contributors and expenditures, remained unknown as of Friday, August 13, because Cervera had not yet filed her campaign finance report. Campaign finance reports for all state legislators were due on June 30, as required by state law, with the Texas Ethics Commission. 

Missing a deadline for filing campaign finance reports can result in fines imposed by the Texas Ethics Commission against incumbent lawmakers and legislative candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due on June 30 cover all financial activities for the period of January 1 through June 30.

Created in 1991 by Texas voters, the Texas Ethics Commission, which is headquartered in Austin, has many duties, including administering and enforcing state laws that deal with campaign finance reports and lobbyist registration reports and activities. 

The TEC has an executive director, along with eight commissioners. Four commissioners are appointed by the governor, two are appointed by the lieutenant governor, and two are appointed by the speaker of the house. Currently, there are no TEC commissioners who live in South Texas.

Gonzáles raised almost $165,000

According to Gonzáles campaign finance report, the three-term lawmaker received $164,708.22 in financial contributions and spent $62,622.57 during the first six months of this year. With money forwarded from previous years, Gonzáles was able to maintain a balance of $195,349.34 as of June 30.

She did not have any outstanding loans as of June 30.

Many of Gonzáles’ biggest contributions and expenditures between January 1 and June 30 were linked to a successful fundraiser dubbed the "Capitol Fashion Show", which featured about a dozen state legislators posing in the latest fashions from several of the region’s top clothing stores.

The "Capitol Fashion Show" was held in Mission on June 3.

Among the major contributions that were made during the June 3 fundraiser are:

  • $10,942.50 from the Sen. Kirk Watson Campaign. Watson, a Democratic and a former mayor of Austin, represents the Capitol City in the Texas Legislature;
  • $10,000 from Annie’s List, a political action committee headquartered in Austin which promotes the election of women to powerful positions in the state;
  • $10,000 from the Border Health PAC of Pharr, which is the political fundraising arm of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg; and
  • $10,000 from Houston attorney John Steven Mostyn, who is a major contributor to Democratic candidates.

Edinburg physician top contributor from Valley

Almost 50 other contributions, ranging from $1,000 to $4,500 apiece, came in for Gonzáles during the first six months of 2010, with the largest contribution from Edinburg coming from Vincent Honrubia, M.D. for $3,500.

McAllen’s Atlas & Hall LLP, Alonzo Cantú, president and CEO, Cantú Construction and Development Company, and Val Peisen, an executive with L&F Distributors, each donated $2,500.

Gonzáles drew financial support from several area elected officials, including $1,600 from Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa, while Hidalgo County District Attorney René Guerra, a Democrat, and former Hidalgo County 449th District Court Judge Daniel G. Ríos, a Republican, each provided $1,000 to her the state lawmaker’s reelection bid.

Hidalgo County Judge René  A. Ramírez and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, each donated $750 to  Gonzáles campaign, rounding out major contributors among area elected leaders. 

Her major expenditures during the first six months of 2010 include $15,000 to Mario’s Banquet and Conference Center, 1716 E. Griffin Parkway, Mission, which hosted her "Capitol Fashion Store".

Her second- and third-highest expenditures were for Marco Pérez, Jr., 2008 W. Jonquil in McAllen, for contract labor, and $7,631.62 for campaign signs purchased from The Sign Factory, 4211 Canadian Lane, Mission.

Gonzáles gave $500 to Republican leader

Gonzáles also gave money from her political campaign to two fellow state legislators –  one a Republican, who won his  primary reelection battle in March, and one a Democrat who was defeated in her primary reelection bid in an April run-off.

Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, received a $500 contribution from Gonzáles campaign on February 25, while Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, received a $500 contribution for Gonzáles campaign, also on February 25.

Jones is chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, which will play a major role next spring in shaping the geographical boundaries of all congressional, state senate, state representative, and State Board of Education districts. 

Chávez lost in an April Democratic Party primary runoff. She was criticized by some fellow El Paso area Democrats after she accused her opponent, Naomi González, of being a lesbian. Chávez later apologized for that accusation.

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles’ campaign finance report, which totaled 78 pages in length covering all activities from January 1 through June 30, is available, at no charge and in its entirety, by logging on to the Texas Ethics Commission at:

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/filerpdw.php?acct=00054908coh

Highlights of this latest campaign finance report includes the following list of contributions and expenditures:

CONTRIBUTIONS

$10,942.50:

  • Kirk Watson Campaign, Austin (contributed $942.50 on April 3 and contributed $10,000 on June 3);

$10,000 each:

  • Annie’s List, Austin (contributed $5,000 on May 27 and contributed $5,000 on June 30);
  • Border Health PAC, Pharr (continued $5,000 on June 4 and contributed $5,000 on June 30); and
  • John Steven Mostyn, attorney, the Mostyn Law Firm, Houston (June 29);

$5,000:

  • TREPAC, Austin (June 29).

$4,500:

  • Licensed Beverage Distributors PAC, Austin ($2,000 contribution on February 8 and $2,500 contribution on June 3).

$3,500:

  • Vincent Honrubia, M.D., Edinburg ($3,000 contribution on March 19 and $500 contribution on June 30).

$3,000:

  • Texans for A Better Education, Houston (April 9).

$2,650:

  • HDCC Incumbent Protection Fund, Austin (June 30).

$2,500 each:

  • Atlas & Hall, LLP, McAllen (June 2);
  • Alonzo Cantú, president and CEO, Cantú Construction and Development Company, McAllen (June 30);
  • House Democratic Campaign Committee, Austin (February 19);
  • Val Peisen, beer distributor, L&F Distributors, McAllen (May 6); and
  • Texas Homecare & Hospice PAC, Austin (May 27).
  • Texas Medical Association PAC, Austin (June 4); and
  • Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC, Austin (April 23);

$2,120:

  • Joseph Sakulenzki, McAllen (contributed $795 on May 12 and contributed $1,325 on June 1).

$2,000 each:

  • HILLCO PAC, Austin (contributed $1,000 on February 8 and contributed $1,000 on June 8);
  • Licensed Beverage Distributors PAC, Austin (February 8); and
  • Carlos Manrique (collected by ACTBLUE Texas PAC) (June 28).

$1,600:

  • Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County District Clerk, McAllen (contributed $450 on June 3 and contributed $1,150 on June 8).

$1,500 each:

  • American Electric Power Company – Texas Committee for Responsible Government, Austin (June 8)
  • Ana and Ricardo Canales, attorney/dentist, Linebarker Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP, Edinburg (June 8);
  • International Bank of Commerce and Betterment of the County IBC, McAllen (June 8); and
  • Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, Austin (June 8);

 

$1,050:

  • Joe A. García (collected through ACTBLUE Texas PAC, Austin (June 8).

$1,000 each:

  • ALTRIAPAC, Washington, D.C (March 3);
  • American Electric Power Company – Texas Committee for Responsible Government, Austin (February 8);
  • Brown McCarroll PAC, Austin (April 12);
  • Blackridge, Austin (April 12);
  • David S. Deanda, Jr., president, Lone Star National Bank, Mission (June 8);
  • El Toro Management Company LLC, McAllen (June 3);
  • Electric Delivery PAC, Dallas (June 28);
  • Farmers Employee and Agent PAC of Texas, Austin (June 30);
  • Friends of Baylor Med, Houston (February 24);
  • Jacob Fuller, senior partner, Starcom Consultants, Inc., McAllen (contributed $500 0n June 8 and contributed $500 on June 30);
  • Harper, Alan and Patti, Harper Cattle Company, Arlington (March 3);
  • Jaime González, attorney, Law Office of Jaime González, McAllen (June 8);
  • Victor Haddad, M.D., (collected through ACTBLUE Texas PAC), McAllen (June 28);
  • Pedro McDougal, M.D., McAllen (June 30);
  • William J. Miller, lobbyist, Austin (April 12);
  • Thomas Morín, publisher and president, Daily Court Review, Inc., Houston (May 11);
  • Pfizer PAC, New York City (June 3);
  • PharmPAC, Austin (February 19);
  • René Guerra Campaign, Edinburg (June 8);
  • Daniel Ríos, attorney, Edinburg (June 30);
  • Larry Safir (collected through ACTBLUE Texas PAC), entrepreneur/owner of television station, McAllen (June 30);
  • Texas Automobile Dealers Association PAC (February 1);
  • Alejandro Tey, M.D. (collected through ACTBLUE Texas PAC), McAllen (June 30);
  • Michael Toomey, attorney/lobbyist, Austin (February 7);
  • Texas Friends of Time Warner PAC, Houston (April 12);
  • S.F. Vale, president, KTLM TV, Rio Grande City (June 8); and
  • Efraim Vela, M.D., Valley OB/GYN (February 11).

$920:

  • Joe and Diana De León, owners, Tierra Dulce, McAllen (June 30);

$900:

  • Martha Valencia, owner, All Americare Nursing Service, San Juan (June 8).

$750 each:

  • René A. Ramírez Hidalgo County Judge Office Holder Account, Edinburg (May 27);
  • Neal F. Runnels, beer distributor/owner, Glazer’s Distributors, McAllen ($500 contribution on February 8 and $250 contribution on February 11);
  • Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa Campaign, McAllen (June 8); and
  • The Law Office of Preston Henrichson PC, Edinburg (March 8).

$665

  • Celeste Roach, philanthropist, McAllen (June 15).

$510

  • Rosalie Weisfeld, McAllen (contributed $50 on February 11 and contributed $490 on June 8).

$500 each:

  • Adolfo Álvarez, attorney, Law Office of Al Álvarez, McAllen (June 30);
  • Ricardo Barrera, M.D., Mission (June 30);
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas PAC, Austin (April 23);
  • Jaime Capelo, PC, Austin (June 8);
  • Augusto Castrillón, M.D., Mission (February 11);
  • Javier and Diana (Dr.) Cortinas, physician, McAllen (June 30);
  • El Paso Corporation PAC, Houston (May 7);
  • Ewing Lara Ebner and Company, LLC, McAllen (February 25);
  • María Elena Falcón, M.D., physician, McAllen (June 30);
  • Gilbert Gallegos, architect, Broaddus and Associates, McAllen (January 14);
  • Joe A. García, legislative consultant, The García Group, Austin (June 8);
  • José Garza, stock broker, Merril Lynch, McAllen (June 30);
  • John Gerling (collected through ACTBLUE Texas PAC), McAllen (June 26);
  • Graydon Group LLC, Austin (April 12);
  • Homepac of Texas, Austin (April 12);
  • Subramaniam Jagadeesan, M.D., Mission (June 30);
  • Johnson and Johnson PAC, New Brunswick, New Jersey (April 23);
  • Marsha Jones, legislative consultant, HILLCO Partners, Austin (February 8);
  • Neal T. Jones, attorney/lobbyist, HILLCO Partners, Austin (April 12);
  • K&L Gates LLP Committee for Good Government, Dallas (April 12);
  • Robert Martínez (collected through ACTBLUE Texas PAC) ( June 30);
  • McAllen Federation of Teachers, McAllen (June 28);
  • José Peña, M.D., Donna (June 30);
  • Robert J. Pérez, attorney, Shelton and Valadez, PC, San Antonio (March 2);
  • Luis Reyes, M.D., McAllen (June 8);
  • Heriberto Rodríguez-Ayala, M.D., McAllen (June 30);
  • Javier Sáenz, M.D., La Joya (June 30);
  • Tawhid Shuaib, M.D., Valley Cardiology LLC, McAllen (June 30);
  • Texas Consumer Finance Association PAC, Austin (April 12);
  • Texas Funeral Directors Association PAC, Austin (February 11);
  • Texas RN/APN PAC, Austin (May 6);
  • TSCPA PAC, Dallas (February 23); and
  • Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas PAC, Austin (April 12).

EXPENDITURES

$15,000:

• Mario’s Banquet and Conference Center, 1716 E. Griffin Parkway, Mission ($5,000 for venue rental deposit on April 30 and $10,000 on June 4 to pay for the balance of the venue rental and catering for Gonzáles’ "Capitol Fashion Show" fundraiser held on June 3) (June 4).

$8,200:

• Marco Pérez, Jr., 2008 W. Jonquil, McAllen, for contract labor ($730 on January 8, $1,750 on March 10, $3,100 on April 6, $1,870 on April 30, and $750 on June 8).

$7,631.62:

• The Sign Factory, 4211 Canadian Lane, Mission, for campaign signs (February 1).

$4,358:

• Selina Medrano, 1303 Pine Avenue, Pharr, contract labor ($1,000 on April 6, $1,000 on April 30, $1,000 on June 4, and $1,000 on June 8).

$3,671:

• Message Audience and Presentations, Inc., 2400 South 4th Street, Austin, for campaign literature and design (June 15).

$3,000 each:

• Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, 605 Water Lilly, McAllen, reimbursement of contribution for purchase of billboard at silent auction on February 27 (March 4); and

• Boys & Girls Club of McAllen, P.O. Box 577, McAllen, for contribution for silent auction item of billboard intended to be used for campaign (February 27).

$2,600:

• Paddinton Media, 504 W. 7th Street, Austin, for website development (February 23).

$2,091.39:

Grande Valley Signs & Design, 3700 Sheraton, Suite 4, Pharr, for T-shirts, bumper stickers and balloons (April 6).

$1,138.49:

• Pepper’s at Uptown, 4620 North 10th Street, McAllen, for a reception/reimbursement to Marco Pérez, Jr. ($1,014.38 on March 17 and $124.11 on June 8).

$1,000:

• KCP Associates, 80 Red River Street #114, Austin (March 11).

$900 each:

• Texas Lyceum, 7131 Lavendale Avenue, Dallas, for conference registration fees ($200 on February 26, $500 on March 12, and $200 on May 25); and

• Dave Williams, 1111 La Vista, McAllen, for event sound, lights, and music for Gonzáles’ "Capitol Fashion Show" fundraiser held on June 3 (June 3).

$681.97:

• Special Flowers and Gifts, 113 E. Pecan, McAllen, for florals for Gonzáles’ "Capitol Fashion Show" fundraiser held on June 3 (May 28).

$525:

Juan Carlos Díaz, 600 Nyssa, McAllen, for photography services ($225 on April 30 and $300 on June 8)

$503.69:

• Paper Chase Printing, 4100 North 22nd, McAllen, for stationary (January 22).

$500 each:

• Delwin Jones Campaign, Lubbock (February 25);

• Norma Chávez Campaign, El Paso (February 25); and

• Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships, P.O. Box 6882, McAllen, for scholarships (March 4).

$479.55:

• Nuevo Santander Gallery, 717 North Main Street, McAllen, for venue rental (February 19).

$465

• Lilly Echartea, 801 W. Butler, Pharr, grooming services for legislators participating in Gonzáles’ "Capitol Fashion Show" fundraiser held on June 3 (June 4).

$430

• Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, 605 Water Lilly, McAllen, reimbursement for travel/lodging in Houston (February 22 – 24) to attend Texas Lyceum Conference.

$414.97

•  Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, 605 Water Lilly, McAllen, reimbursement for San Antonio lodging (February 5 – 7) in San Antonio to attend Texas Lyceum Conference (February 9).

$414.97

Hotel Contessa, 306 W. Market Street, San Antonio, lodging to attend Texas Lyceum Conference (February 7).

$341.86

• Hotel Zaza, 5701 Main Street, Houston, for lodging and transportation while in Houston at Texas Lyceum Conference (April 24).

$300

• La Unión del Pueblo Entero, P.O. Box 188, San Juan, donation (March 11);

• The Ballot, Inc., 1418 Pecan Blvd, McAllen, for advertisement (February 1); and

• Yesenia Vera, 700 E. Cheyenne Avenue, Pharr, for cosmetic services for legislators participating in Gonzáles’ "Capitol Fashion Show" fundraiser held on June 3 (June 4).

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Public input sought through September 7 for Hidalgo County’s strategic five-year economic development plan, says County Judge Ramírez 

By CARI LAMBRECHT

Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramiréz and members of the Commissioners’ Court on Thursday, August 12, released a draft of a Hidalgo County Strategic Plan for Economic Development for public review and comment.  

“The important input that is provided by the public is critical to completing the plan we’ve come up with through extensive research, public meetings and under the direction of the IGNITE strategy committee,” Ramiréz said. “It should reflect the economic interests of all the citizens of Hidalgo County.”  

The strategic plan titled, Ignite Hidalgo County: A Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy forHidalgo County 2011-2015, is a five-year strategic plan for economic development for Hidalgo County, which focuses on six goals:   

   • Growing  Hidalgo County’s economy;

   • Creating  a globally competitive workforce;

   • Bolstering  existing and new regional collaboration efforts;

   • Improving  regional physical infrastructure;

   • Meeting  the comprehensive mobility needs of the region; and

   • Establishing  Hidalgo County as the premier location for healthcare in South Texas.

Public comment will be accepted through September 7, 2010 at 5 p.m.  

Copies of the draft report are located at the Hidalgo County Judge’s Office; the University of Texas-Pan American, International Trade and Technology Building, Room 1.404K, or online at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/ignite or the IGNITE Wiki page, http://hidalgocountyceds.org/wikispaces.com

Written comments can be submitted online at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/ignite or by e-mail to ignite@hidalgocountyjudge.com. Comments can also be faxed to (956) 318-2699 or mailed/dropped off at the Hidalgo County Judge’s Office, located at 100 E. Cano, Edinburg, Texas 78539.  Comments will be incorporated into the document where applicable. The final strategic plan will later be submitted to the Economic Development Administration. 

“With the development of this plan, Hidalgo County is taking a proactive approach to economic development to fuel the county’s economic growth now and in the future,” said Dr. Fausto Meza, the physician administrator with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.  Meza is one of 17 community members of the IGNITE Strategy Committee that guided the development of the strategic plan.  

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FEMA opens disaster recovery center in Edinburg to help victims of Hurricane Alex

By KARINA CARDOZA  

Hidalgo County announces the opening of a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Edinburg for residents affected by Hurricane Alex and subsequent flooding.  Bilingual representatives of state, federal and voluntary agencies will be available at the center to answer questions and provide disaster loan information to homeowners, renters and businesses of all sizes. Written materials about various assistance programs are also available to individuals and business owners. 

“The opening of the Disaster Recovery Center in Edinburg will assist residents in accessing information to assist in their individual recovery efforts,” said Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramiréz. “We encourage those affected to register by phone or in person as soon as possible to get the assistance they need. Federal assistance and other resources are available to help residents rebuild, recover and recapture their lives after this disaster.” 

The DRC in Hidalgo County opened at 9 a.m. on Monday, August 16, 2010 and is located at the Hidalgo County Courthouse Annex (Old Administration Building), 100 E. Cano, 2nd Floor in Edinburg.           

  

The DRC will be opened from Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. until further notice. Residents are encouraged to register for assistance with FEMA by calling 1/800-621-FEMA (3362), online at http://www.disasterassistance.gov or at a DRC to meet face-to-face with recovery specialists. 

The Hidalgo County Disaster Recovery Hotline (1866-613-5277) remains open as well to answer any questions related to assistance or refer to organizations that can help meet immediate or unmet needs.  Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

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UT-Pan American annual budget set at $263.8 million by UT System Board of Regents

By SANDRA QUINTANILLA

The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved The University of Texas-Pan American fiscal year 2011 operating budget on Thursday, August 12, which will be effective September 1.

Despite a mandated five percent cut — or $5.5 million — in state funding, UTPA’s budget addresses essential needs and provides for focused improvements.

A combination of enrollment growth, expenditure reductions and adjustment of tuition and fee rates have enabled the institution to address the cut in state funding and provided the flexibility necessary for continued institutional development.

Beginning Fall 2010, the undergraduate designated tuition rate — the rate set by the University — will increase from $97 to $106.09 per semester credit hour (SCH), and the graduate designated tuition rate will increase from $101.70 to $110.79 per SCH. Designated tuition will continue to be capped 14 SCHs to encourage students to enroll in more than 14 hours.

Although UTPA is the 10th largest public university in the state, it maintains one of the lowest academic costs, ranking 30th out of 34 institutions in tuition as of Fall 2009. The average cost, including all tuition and fees, for 15 credit hours for one semester will be, depending on specific courses, about $2,904 beginning Fall 2010.

The budget includes a $1.8 million increase in employer contributions toward group health insurance to maintain a quality plan.

The spending plan also raises the annual designated tuition set-aside for student financial assistance by $843,322 to $5 million and allocates $109,000 for faculty promotions. Also included are increases for assisting migrant students and for the employee education benefit program. To further improve customer service, additional funding for the University’s call center is provided.

Importantly, the budget incorporates support of emerging programs such as master’s degrees in chemistry, engineering management, creative writing, and physician assistant studies as well as bachelor’s degrees in rehabilitative services, computer engineering, environmental studies, and a doctoral degree in rehabilitation counseling. This support includes a modest addition of six and a half faculty positions.

"I am pleased to be able to say that we have a balanced budget in spite of the mandated reductions," said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

“There were no substantial increases in the number of faculty needed to better accommodate enrollment growth, nor were merit raises provided for employees," he said. "Our faculty and staff deserved those raises, and I admire their understanding of the sacrifices needed at this time,” Nelsen added.

The UTPA president emphasized that the budget developed is student-based, safeguarding UTPA’s instructional mission.

By not including merit raises in the budget, the University hopes to avoid layoffs during FY 2011, said James Langabeer, vice president for the Division of Business Affairs.

“The omission of merit pay was perhaps the most difficult of many tough decisions that had to be made during the budget preparation process,” Langabeer said.

Langabeer went on to point out that to minimize the negative impact on students, faculty and staff, officials developed the FY 2011 budget assuming a flat student enrollment. There is great uncertainty, however. Already, the state has asked the institution to include plans for a 10-percent reduction in its Legislative appropriations request for the upcoming biennium starting FY 2012.

The conservative approach used for the FY 2011 budget will better position the institution for the future.

For more information about The University of Texas System’s operating budget for the 2011 fiscal year, visit  HYPERLINK "http://www.utsystem.edu/News/files/2011BudgetSummary.pdf" http://www.utsystem.edu/News/files/2011BudgetSummary.pdf.

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Congressman Hinojosa secures almost $300,000 to help boost emergency preparedness at McAllen school district

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO  

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, August 11, announced the U.S. Department of Education has awarded McAllen Independent School District and the McAllen I.S.D. Police Department $298,135.00 grant for the Readiness and Emergency Management For Schools Program. The funds will be used to strengthen the emergency management plans (Prevention-Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery) in McAllen ISD schools. 

“This grant award will help supplement the McAllen I.S.D. student safety and campus readiness plan through a joint community effort and through education and communication,” said Hinojosa. “By joining together with government agencies, school leaders, local law enforcement, first responder departments, public and mental health officials, parents, guardians and other stakeholders, the McAllen Independent School District will be able to create clear communication and collaboration to effectively respond to an emergency."  

McAllen I.S.D. is one of the largest school districts in the Texas border region. With its growing population of more than 25,000 students on 34 campuses and approximately 3,400 employees and 1,700 teachers, security and emergency readiness is a priority. 

The program includes significant National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) training, testing and evaluation that will help McAllen I.S.D. to sustain and continually improve its emergency preparedness and response capabilities.  

"This is going to help the McAllen I.S.D. to continue to provide local emergency and school personnel with crucial tools that can help them respond to a school emergency quickly, saving time and possibly lives during critical moments," Hinojosa said. 

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Hidalgo County opens hotline to help area residents more easily qualify for federal disaster relief for Hurricane Alex damages

By KARINA CARDOZA

President Obama on Tuesday, August 3, signed a presidential declaration of disaster for several Texas counties including Hidalgo County, making those regional governments and their residents eligible for federal aid, said Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez.

This declaration will allow for financial assistance to be provided to residents affected by Hurricane Alex and the subsequent Rio Grande River flooding. This assistance may include grants for temporary housing or repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property lossesand other programs to help businesses and individuals recover from disaster.

Residents and business owners can begin applying immediately by registering online at:

http://www.DisasterAssistance.govor

or by calling 1/800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1/800-462-7585 for the speech and hearing impaired. 

In order to help are residents and business owners navigate through the bureaucratic red-tape, Ramírez said that Hidalgo County’s local Disaster Recovery Hotline went live on Friday, August 6.

The purpose of Hidalgo County’s local Disaster Recovery Hotline is to help residents

affected by the flood have access to a wide variety of recovery resources. The rollout of a local hotline addresses the most immediate needs —such as where to get cleaning supplies, food

supplies or replacement furniture, for example.

Hidalgo County’s local Disaster Recovery Hotline, which feature bilingual staff, will be open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for at least 30 days. The number is 1/866-613-5277. (Please note: This is NOT the FEMA registration number. This is general disaster recovery help line. Residents are highly encouraged to register with FEMA at 1/800-621-FEMA as soon as possible.) 

The county hotline’s main purposes will be to refer flood-affected residents to charitable organizations that can assist with whatever needs they may have and field any questions about the FEMA individual assistance application process.

“We have worked closely with the leaders and emergency management teams in the county

throughout this event to minimize the impact on property and especially on people’s lives," said Ramírez. "Unfortunately, many of our residents experienced major  water damage to their homes and continue to face difficulties in trying to get their lives back to normal."

The nine designated counties to receive funding are Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Maverick, Starr, Val Verde, Webb and Zapata counties, said Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. 

“This declaration for federal funding could not come soon enough,” said Hinojosa. “Over the past month I have spent time with federal, state and local officials working to keep the Rio  Grande River within its levees and spillways. But there are areas where the river has either breached old levees or overflowed its banks and in those cases, the river has left a trail of destruction. Homes, livestock, agriculture and much needed roads have been destroyed by the flooding. We are hoping for immediate assistance from FEMA to help those who are still suffering from the disaster that was left by and continues from Hurricane Alex.”

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, noted that the rainfall and major flooding from this event involved tornado and hurricane conditions which caused record-level damages. The most severe effects were to the southern and northwestern portions of Texas which caused distress to the local economy, hospitals, nursing homes, housing, and infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and wastewater treatment plants.

“I personally thank President Obama for declaring this area a major disaster and for taking into consideration the severe damages that the inclement weather brought upon counties in my district. I also thank FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and FEMA Regional Administrator Tony Russell for the collaboration in this disaster declaration process,” said Cuellar. “To the families affected by the rain and flood I say: Be patient. Help is on its way.” 

Ramírez said that he and other county government leaders also appreciated the assistance they have received from Gov. Rick Perry and Perry’s staff at the Texas Division of Emergency Management, along with help from other state agencies. The county judge also praised the crucial help from President Obama and the area’s congressional delegation.

“It is my hope that our residents, manyof whom do not have flood insurance, will get the assistance they need to repair their homes,” said Ramírez. "We are working closely with FEMA officials to

gather additional information that will soon be sent out to the public."

 

Cari Lambrecht, Patricia Guillermo, and Eddie Zavala contributed to this article.

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Former Hidalgo County Commissioner Garcés, 52, and his wife convicted and sentenced to federal prison for health care fraud 

By ANGELA DODGE

Former Hidalgo County Commissioner Guadalupe Garcés, Jr. and his wife, Araceli Garcés, found guilty in April by a jury of multiple counts of health care fraud arising from the submission of millions of dollars in false and fraudulent claims to both the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs, have been sentenced to prison, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced on Thursday, August 5.

Chief United States District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa sentenced Garcés. Jr., 52, to 41 months in federal prison, while his wife, 48, received 33 months. In addition to the prison terms, Hinojosa ordered the couple to pay a total of $636,742.61 in restitution to the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Following their release from prison, the court has further ordered both defendants to three-year-terms of supervised release.

The Garcés were convicted of multiple counts of health care fraud arising from the operation of two ambulance companies A-Stat Ambulance Inc. and A-Care EMS both located in Edinburg, following a 13-day jury trial in April 2008.

Initially indicted on December 6, 2006, Guadalupe and Araceli Garcés were accused of conspiring to and defrauding Medicaid and Medicare by means of false and fraudulent claims in connection with the transportation by ambulance of beneficiaries to and from dialysis clinics when ambulance transport was not medically necessary. From May 2001 to June 2004, A-Stat Ambulance, owned and operated by the Garcés, billed Medicare/Medicaid approximately $12 million for transporting dialysis patients even though the Garcés knew transportation by ambulance was not medically necessary and received approximately $4.5 million in payments for these claims.

In May 2007, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging the Garcés and Rodney Ramos, the director of operations, with health care fraud arising from their operation of the A Care E.M.S. Inc. After Medicare and Medicaid suspended all payments to A-Stat Ambulance because of the fraudulent billing, the Garcés incorporated A-Care EMS Inc. in their 20-year-old son’s name and urged him to apply and receive Medicare and Medicaid provider numbers. The Garcés continued to transport dialysis patients via ambulance when it was not medically necessary and billed Medicare/Medicaid approximately $3 million between March 2005 and December 2006. The health care benefit programs paid $1.6 million based upon these claims. 

Ramos pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and is pending sentencing.

The Garcés have been permitted to remain on bond pending an order to surrender to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future where they will serve their sentences.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Office – Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Aníbal J. Alaniz and Carolyn Ferko prosecuted the case.  

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Sales Tax-Free Weekend scheduled for August 20 – 22, says Sen. Hinojosa 

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS

Texas’ highly successful sales tax holiday, scheduled this year for August 20-22, will offer Texans an opportunity to save millions in sales tax on clothing and a variety of back-to-school items, says Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.  With two-thirds of the summer gone, the timing of the tax holiday is perfect for students of all ages looking to stock up on clothes and supplies for the new school year. 

The Texas Legislature has expanded the list of items eligible for the tax break.  The following link to the Texas Comptroller’s webpage answers frequently asked questions about the tax holiday.  The page also lists items that qualify for the tax exemption: 

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxpubs/tx98_490/tx98_490.html  

"The back-to-school season is a great economic driver in Texas.  Parents are looking for low prices on the materials their children need for school and businesses are competing for those dollars," said Hinojosa, a long-time supporter of the sales tax-free weekend. "The sales tax holiday helps Texas families save money on those items, and because of the increase in shoppers, stores often hire employees to help with the rush.  This tax holiday really stimulates the local economies in a variety of ways."  

Given the sluggish pace of the economy, Hinojosa encouraged residents of South Texas and the Coastal Bend to begin budgeting early to take full advantage of the tax holiday coming up two weekends from now. 

"I know that families are really sticking to their budgets these days.  Knowing that the tax holiday is scheduled for later this month gives people time to set aside money now.  It is best to buy as many items as you can during the holiday to get the full benefit of the tax break," Hinojosa concluded. 

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Sen. Hutchison introduces bill to update and strengthen federal anti-stalking laws

By COURTNEY SANDERS

U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, and Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, on Friday, August 6 introduced legislation that strengthens and updates federal anti-stalking laws to address the new technology predators are using to harass their victims.

The Stalkers Act improves federal anti-stalking laws to protect victims and provide prosecutors with the necessary tools to combat the growing threat of cyberstalking. The legislation was the subject of a recent press conference with ESPN reporter Erin Andrews and House supporters.

“Countless victims of stalking have been forced to live in fear. The original stalking bill I passed through the Senate has been effective in punishing offenders, but developing technology has enabled stalkers to use new tactics to harass victims. Our bill would expand the law to include cyber stalking,” Hutchison said. “The bill would also allow police to intervene earlier in situations where victims are not aware they are being stalked. With stronger laws on the books, we can continue to protect Americans from being terrorized by stalkers.”

Current federal anti-stalking laws are outdated and may not cover all acts of electronic surveillance, including spyware, bugging, video surveillance, and other new technology used by modern-day stalkers.

“Our laws need to be as sophisticated as the predators who violate them,” Klobuchar said. “As a former prosecutor, I understand how critical it is that law enforcement be able to combat the growing threat of cyberstalking, and this bill will give them the tools to do just that.”

The bipartisan legislation empowers law enforcement to prosecute any act of stalking that would be “reasonably expected” to cause a person serious emotional distress. It requires the attorney general to evaluate federal, state, and local efforts to enforce anti-stalking laws and submit an annual report on best practices.

“There are chilling ways that stalkers are using technology to threaten their victims, and current law is often helpless against them. This bill takes into account the reality of technology today and covers more ground in protecting people from harm,” Kohl said.

The bill also increases the punishment for stalking offenses to protect the most vulnerable victims of stalking. Offenders who are convicted for stalking minors, violating protection orders, or stalking the elderly may be sentenced up to an additional five years in prison.

“This legislation will help ensure that our laws protect victims of stalking from increasingly advanced methods of harassment, particularly those involving the use of technology,” Isakson said.

Klobuchar’s legislation is a companion bill to HR 5662, which was introduced in the House by Representatives Loretta Sánchez, D-California, and Virginia Fox, R-North Carolina, and passed in July. Klobuchar, Sánchez, and other congressional members joined ESPN reporter Erin Andrews at an event recently to discuss how the legislation will bolster anti-stalking laws.

Cyberstalking is a problem that has grown more severe as digital technology has improved and proliferated. The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) estimates that one out of every four stalking victims report being stalked through some form of technology, such as e-mail or instant messaging. NCVC supports the Stalkers Act.

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Rio Grande Valley Stonewall Democrats praise federal judge’s decision to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriages

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

The Rio Grande Valley Stonewall Democrats, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Caucus of the Democratic Party, praised a landmark ruling on Wednesday, August 6 by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s to strike down California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Walker’s ban – which is expected to be appealed – ruled that the state’s voter-approved Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution. Walker presides over a federal court location in San Francisco. The controversial case is expected to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court which would result in a momentous decision relating to same-sex marriages in the United States.

“We are extremely proud and elated not only with Judge Walker’s recent ruling, but with his decision today to resume same-sex marriages in California,” said Eli Olivarez, RGV Stonewall President. “This is a huge victory for California and for the LGBT community and allies nation wide who continue to work for dignity, respect and equality for all.”

Walker stated in the nation’s first federal same-sex trial that "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples."  

The mission of the Stonewall Democrats is to educate the community and involve them in the political process; mobilize the community to get out the vote to elect more pro-equality and fair-minded Democrats; and to stand up to attacks not only to the LGBT community but all families and their civil rights.  

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Dr. Harry Wong, renowned education reform trainer, to address general assemblies for Edinburg CISD teachers 

By GILBERT TAGLE

Dr. Harry Wong, one of the most respected and referenced individuals in the field of education reform, will be the keynote speaker at two opening day general assemblies of teachers in the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District on Aug. 17th. He is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the cafetorium at Harwell Middle School, 801 E. Canton Road. 

Edinburg CISD traditionally begins every school year with separate general assemblies for elementary and secondary teachers. The district has 40 schools and a student population of over 32,000 students. 

Wong, author of The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, will speak at both general assemblies about effective teacher strategies. “It is the teacher — what the teacher knows and can do — that is the most significant factor in student achievement,” says Wong. 

“The single greatest effect on student achievement is not race, it is not poverty — it is the effectiveness of the teacher,” said Wong. 

While he was a high school secondary science teacher, Wong developed methods which resulted in his having no discipline problems, a zero dropout rate, a 95 percent homework turn-in factor, and the ability to demonstrate mastery learning for each of his students. 

Instructor magazine (March 2006) announced their reader’s poll for the most admired in the world of education. Wong was on the final list of 20 along with Maya Angelou, Laura Bush, Bill Cosby, Hillary Clinton, Ron Clark, Marva Collins, Howard Gardner, and Oprah Winfrey.

Because of his achievements, Wong has been awarded the Horace Mann Outstanding Educator Award, Upton Sinclair Award, Outstanding Secondary Teacher Award, the Science Teacher Achievement Recognition Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and the Valley Forge Teacher’s Medal. Wong was also the subject of a story in Reader’s Digest.

His techniques have been adapted by thousands of educators for success in their schools and classrooms. Wong has been called “Mr. Practicality” for his common-sense, research-based, no-cost approach to managing a classroom for high-level student success.

Wong has been credited with transforming schools and turning the lives around of tens of thousands of teachers. 

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Four Mission undocumented immigrants convicted of using U.S. mail to ship marijuana

By ANGELA DODGE

Four undocumented immigrants convicted of using the United States mail to distribute drugs have been sentenced to prison, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Tuesday, August 10.

Leopoldo Perales-Rodríguez, 42, Juan Carlos Hernández, 22, Víctor Hugo Mares, 27, and Margarito Gallardo, 46, all illegally residing in Mission, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana through the United States Postal system in August 2009. Perales-Rodríguez, Hernández and Mares mailed parcels on a continual basis for at least one year.

Gallardo mailed parcels and cashed money orders that were sent via the postal system as payments for the mailing of the marijuana. Through a continuous drug interdiction program in McAllen, United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) inspectors identified these four persons as members of a group of persons involved in mailing parcels containing marijuana through the mail system. 

Through physical and video surveillance and the execution of search warrants, USPIS inspectors determined this group and its various members were responsible for mailing parcels containing marijuana from various post offices throughout the Rio Grande Valley since May 2008. The parcels were similarly packaged and contained raw beans, sealed in the cap of a can of spray foam to create a rattling sound and wrapped in thick plastic. Later, mustard, salt and pepper were added to the cellophane around the marijuana to serve as masking agents. The packages were destined for various points throughout the United States, principally Connecticut, Puerto Rico, New York and Florida. Overall, the USPIS inspectors developed evidence suggesting this group had shipped in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana through the postal system during the one-year-period they were under investigation.   

On Monday, August 9, 2010, Chief United States District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa handed down sentences upon each of these four defendants, taking into consideration the actual amount of marijuana seized and connected with each defendant in the group through surveillance, fingerprints and/or similar mailing labels. The amounts ranged from 248 kilograms to 499 kilograms. Additionally, Hinojosa considered the role of each defendant in the conspiracy and other factors including whether the defendant had been involved in recruiting others to join the illegal venture in determining the sentence of each defendant. 

Perales-Rodríguez, both a mailer and recruiter from August 2008 until his May 2009 arrest, was sentenced to 42 months imprisonment to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. Hernández, whose involvement in the conspiracy began in March 2009 and ended with his arrest two months later in May 2009, was sentenced to a 27-month prison term which will also be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. 

Mares, who like Perales-Rodríguez, had been involved in the conspiracy since 2008 and recruited one other person, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and a three-year-term of supervised release. Gallardo, who joined the conspiracy in January 2009 was sentenced to 30 months incarceration and will serve a three-year-term of supervised release.

All four defendants, who have been in custody since their May 2009, were remanded into federal custody to serve their respective sentences.

U.S. Postal Inspectors are increasing their efforts to protect the U.S. Mail from criminal misuse in South Texas. Specifically, USPIS is focusing on drug traffickers that attempt to use the mail to distribute illegal narcotics out of the Rio Grande Valley, which is a violation of federal law. Along with agents from the Hidalgo County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force and the Department of Public Safety narcotics unit, postal inspectors are aggressively investigating to identify and arrest persons engaged in the mailing of narcotics.

Anyone having information about persons responsible for mailing narcotics is encouraged to contact the local Postal Inspector’s office at 956-971-1721. The USPIS will pay up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals who use the U.S. Mail to distribute narcotics.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Juan F. Alanis and Patricia Rigney.

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South Texas College receives $250,000 grant for child-care program at Weslaco STC campus

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, August 3, announced that a $250,539 grant was awarded to South Texas College’s Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco by the United States Department of Education. The funds will be used for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) Program, which provides campus based child care for low-income students who meet eligibility requirements. 

“Everyone at South Texas College who has been involved in this program are doing an outstanding job when it comes to combining higher education along with early childhood education,” said Hinojosa. “This program is meant to help students with children stay in college and it also serves to provide an excellent educational environment for their children. This is what I call a win – win situation”. 

To qualify, students must be eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant for that school year. The higher education institutions which are awarded the (CCAMPIS) grants must have awarded a total of $350,000 or more of Federal Pell Grant funds to students enrolled at that institution during the prior school year.

Luzelma Canales, STC’s interim Associate Dean of Community Engagement and Workforce Entitlement, says this is their third such grant. 

“This grant allows us to continue to enhance our services in our early child development program on our Weslaco campus,”said Canales. “This grant also allows some of our students to do their training at our nationally accredited Day Care Center. We are hoping to use these funds to expand our program, so that we can give more students and children an educational advantage”.  

In addition to child care services, grant funds may be used to provide before or after school services to the extent necessary to enable low-income students enrolled at the institution of higher education to pursue post-secondary education. It is anticipated that the grant will be for a total of four years. 

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Edinburg woman, 42, pleads guilty to federal charge that she conspired to defraud Medicaid

By ANGELA DODGE

Romelia Sánchez Puig, 42, of Edinburg, who is the wife of Manuel Anthony Puig, an area physician assistant, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud Medicare and the Texas Medicaid program, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday, August 3.

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

On July 27, 2010, a superseding indictment was returned against Romelia Puig charging her with an additional four counts of mail fraud arising from the operation of La Hacienda Clinic and the Mission Clinic in Mission. The superseding indictment also added two additional defendants and identified the Medicare program as a victim of the alleged fraud scheme. Manuel Anthony Puig was not charged in the superseding indictment because he pleaded guilty before Chief United States District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa on Friday July 23, 2010, to the conspiracy charge of the original indictment. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conviction and remains free on bond of $174,000 pending sentencing scheduled for Oct. 26, 2010.

On Monday, August 2, Romelia Puig pleaded guilty before Hinojosa to the conspiracy charge in the superseding indictment. She faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conviction.

Manuel Puig is a physician assistant. By state law, a licensed physician is required to supervise and delegate work to a physician assistant and to be responsible for the physician assistant. At yesterday’s hearing, Romelia Puig admitted that in 2005, she joined an ongoing conspiracy with others to submit claims to the health care benefit programs known as Medicare and the Texas Medicaid program 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 or 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 Mr. Puig’s attempts to provide health care benefits, items or services.

Romelia Puig admitted that she 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 R.J.P. would supervise Manuel Puig’s attempts to provide health care benefits, items and services at La Hacienda Family Clinic. Thereafter, Mr. Puig operated La Hacienda Family Clinic without supervision from R.J.P. or any other licensed physician and Romelia Puig 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.

Romelia Puig also admitted that between May 2005 and January 2006, she was the biller at La Hacienda Family Clinic and she submitted or caused to be submitted more than 6,000 claims to Medicare and Medicaid fraudulently using the Texas Medical provider number for R.J.P. for which Medicare and Medicaid paid approximately $173,830.56. 

La Hacienda Family Clinic is no longer in operation. Romelia Puig remains free on bond of $174,000 pending sentencing scheduled for November 8, 2010.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with assistance from the Mission, Texas, 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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ACLU of Texas sues Hidalgo County, challenges "debtor’s prison”  for truant teens

By JOSÉ  MEDINA

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas on Tuesday, July 27, filed a federal class action lawsuit against Hidalgo County. The lawsuit asks a judge to enjoin practices that have improperly sent dozens – possibly hundreds – of the county’s low-income teens to jail for weeks at a time for fines related to school attendance violations they were unable to pay.

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, July 26, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, McAllen Division, alleges that Hidalgo County magistrates fail to make indigency determinations before giving teens two options: pay or go to jail. This practice is contrary to Texas law and violates constitutional protections against being jailed because of one’s inability to pay court-assessed fines.

"Locking up low-income kids in what is functionally a debtor’s prison doesn’t just violate the law, it compounds the very problem that truancy laws are supposed to address," said Gouri Bhat, Senior Staff Attorney. "Hidalgo County is pushing students who need help into the criminal justice system instead of back into school."

Over the course of a months-long investigation during which dozens of records were reviewed, the ACLU of Texas found that teens who landed in jail for unpaid truancy fines were often first subjected to unnecessary ticketing by school police, and then deficient processing by the justice of the peace handling the vast majority of truancy prosecutions in Hidalgo County, Judge Mary Alice Palacios.

One of the Plaintiffs, Elizabeth Díaz, was jailed for 18 days in early 2010 because she and her mother could not afford to pay over $1600 in outstanding fines related to truancy tickets dating back to 2006. While she was in jail, Elizabeth missed taking her TAKS test and the charter school she was attending revoked her enrollment for being absent more than five days, thereby preventing her from graduating this August as she had hoped.

"The county’s unconstitutionally flawed practice of jailing defendants who are unable to pay fines is the final failure that sends teens like these plaintiffs to jail," noted Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas. "This is a civil rights issue that extends far beyond the truancy context in Texas."

For a copy of the lawsuit, go to http://aclutx.org/hidalgotruancy

For more background on this case, go to http://aclutx.org/truancycasebackground

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RGV Stonewall Democrats condemn Texas Republic Party platform that discriminates against gays, lesbians and transgender Texans 

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

The Stonewall Democrats are the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Caucus of the Democratic Party. The mission of this organization, which has a chapter in Hidalgo County, is to educate the community and involve them in the political process, including mobilizing voters to help elect officials who support their legislative priorities and defend civil rights.

It is with this mission in mind that the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Stonewall Democrats Chapter strongly opposes and condemns the Texas Republican Party platform, which was adopted in June 2010 during the Texas GOP Convention in Dallas.

The platform, which advocates policies which would make it a felony to perform a same-sex marriage in Texas, re-criminalize sodomy, and which would take away the rights of gay parents in custody cases, is a blatant disregard for individual and civil liberties and fosters values that are contrary not only to the LGBT community but to most Texans. 

“It is unfortunate that this day in age we continue to see such hate, bigotry and oppression in our community, specifically coming from a group like the Texas Republican Party who touts ‘strength, freedom and prosperity’ as their values,” said Eli Olivarez, RGV Stonewall President. “The RGV Stonewall Democrats call on our community members, friends and allies to defend our equal rights by denouncing these narrow-minded anti-LGBT positions and voting Democrat in the November 2010 elections.” 

The Texas Republican Platform which contends “homosexuality tears at the fabric of society”  and “contributes to the breakdown of the family unit,” also supports legislation which would make it a felony to perform and/or issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Additionally, the state GOP platform opposes the recognition of and granting of benefits to domestic partners; opposes any and all employment protections for LGBT people; opposes the legalization of private, consensual sex; indicates possible anti-transgender bias with the terms “natural man” and “natural woman”; and states: “Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual ‘couples.’ 

“At the end of the day, to support the Republican Party and their hateful political platform is to undermine all equal rights efforts. More importantly, it undermines our support for our gay friends, relatives and the LGBT community at large,” said Adam Nieto, Secretary for RGV Stonewall Democrats. “Its important we send a clear message to Texas Republicans this coming election that we support equal rights, for all Texans." 

The RGV Stonewall Democrats, in conjunction with the Democratic Party and other Democratic groups, will be investing time, work and money to elect "pro-equality and fair-minded Democratic candidates."

The group is also committed to educating and working with more “conservative” Democratic leaders such as Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, who recently voted against the Repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) which revokes the ban on gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the military.  

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