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McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, flanked, from left, by Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, on Sunday, October 3, gave a thumbs-up to bipartisan efforts to encourage South Texans to cast their ballots for the Tuesday, November 2 statewide and local elections. Early voting will be held from October 18 through October 29. Andrade, who joined the local leadership for the news conference at the McAllen Convention Center, was in the Valley that day to announce the 2010 VOTETEXAS Road Tour, a 22-stop, statewide initiative to answer questions about the “when, where, and how” of voting. For voting information, Texans may visit http://www.VOTETEXAS.org or call the Office of the Texas Secretary of State at 1-800-252-VOTE (8683). Many Edinburg and McAllen voters will be casting their ballots in the contested race of House District 41, currently held by Gonzáles, who is being challenged by Rebecca Cervera, the Republican Party nominee for state representative.

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Carolina Desiga-Lozano, principal of Dr. Kay Teer Crawford Elementary, on Saturday, October 2, unveiled the portrait of the school’s namesake, which is the first of three new campuses to be opened by the Edinburg school district for the 2010-2011 school year. Crawford graduated from Edinburg High School and returned to teach there in the mid-1930s, where she organized the EHS Red and Blue Sergeanettes. This first of its kind nonmilitary drill team featured girls performing fancy, high-kicking synchronized movements. Crawford is regarded as the “Mother of the Modern Dance Drill Team”, and is internationally-known. Her dance drill instruction served as the inspiration for more than 15,000 dance drill teams nationwide and during her life time she taught more than 55,000 students. She provided drill teams for 10 Super Bowls, four Rose Bowls and seven Pro Bowls, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the Seattle World’s Fair, the Mazatlán Carnival and New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She was involved in the rededication of the Statue of Liberty and helped orchestrate a celebration surrounding a mass by Pope John Paul II at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Crawford died August 29, 2001 at the age of 88, leaving a legacy of excellence which continues today through Dr. Kay Teer Crawford Elementary. Featured, from left: Rosie Guerra and Evelyn Milligan, former ECISD teachers who also were members of the Sergeanettes; and Desiga-Lozano. The Crawford campus is located at 1800 East Davis Road in northeast Edinburg. See story later in this posting.

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South Texas College board trustees on Monday, September 27, wound up in a stalemate with 3-3 votes on two competing proposals that sought to replace Mike Allen, who passed away on Wednesday, August 25, on the governing board. Going into the public meeting, held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen, STC trustees deadlocked on appointing a replacement to succeed Allen until an election could be held in May 2012, or allowing the vacancy to remain unfilled until voters in Allen’s District 3 could select their own representative in a May 2011 election. Under both options, Allen’s successor would serve the remaining portion of his term.  In May, Allen was elected by voters in District 3 to a new, six-year term. “By not deciding to appoint someone, then they have to have an election,” STC board attorney Jesús “Chuy” Ramírez said after the board meeting. “I don’t know that we have enough time to do it in November, so that would put the election in May. That will give plenty of time for people to put together a campaign.” Allen passed away from complications of a cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia. See story on the vacancy left by Allen’s death later in this posting.

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Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, featured second from right, on Wednesday, September 29, announced the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) was awarded three grants totaling $3,630,000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the Affordable Care Act, and the U.S. Department of Education, for UTPA’s College of Health Sciences & Human Services. “UTPA is making great strides in graduating more and more students with degrees in Science,” said Hinojosa. “These grants, coming at the time when HESTEC is in full gear at UTPA in Edinburg, are great timing to say the least. It is very clear that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Education know what a great job UTPA is doing for our students and for our community.” HESTEC is an acronym for Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology Week, an annual educational and community-oriented sessions hosted by UT-Pan American which are designed to encourage public school students to go to college and major in math, science and technology. This year’s HESTEC was held from September 26 through October 2. Hinojosa was joined in this photograph on Sunday, September 26, by fellow congressional and university leaders at the Social Club in Edinburg to kick off UTPA’s ninth annual HESTEC. Featured, from left: Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; UTPA President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen; Congressman Hinojosa; and Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi. See story on the federal grants to the local university later in this posting.

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Hidalgo County Judge  René A. Ramírez has won a top award for his efforts to ensure a full and accurate count of Hidalgo County residents during Census 2010. At an awards ceremony in Waco on Thursday, October 7,  the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, along with County Progress Magazine, bestowed upon Ramírez the 2010 Excellence in Going the Extra Mile award. The public recognition specifically cited Ramírez’ launching of the Yo Cuento 2010 campaign, which was designed to increase the Census count in Hidalgo County. It is the first time an Hidalgo County official has won the award. “I am deeply honored to win this prestigious award,” Ramírez said. “The Census is taken every 10 years to provide a snapshot on this nation’s population. However, its ramifications are huge. Billions of federal dollars are allocated to states, counties and cities based upon the Census count. The number of congressional and state House and Senate seats we get are also based upon the Census count. So, ensuring a full and accurate count in 2010 was one of my top priorities when I was appointed county judge.” See story later in this posting.

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Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States is celebrated from September 15 through October 15, while Dia de la Raza – which honors the contributions of the Hispanic heritage – is commemorated on October 11. In conjunction with these two landmark events, Wells Fargo Bank, located at 120 W. Nolana in McAllen, on Thursday, October 14, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., will be hosting a social mixer current for current and prospective members of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Also, winning art work of high school and middle school students  from Brownsville to Laredo who participated in the Mi Cultura (My Culture) Hispanic Heritage Art Contest will be on display. “We encourage the community to come out and join in the celebrations as well as see the fabulous art work of South Texas students,” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC president and CEO. “It’s also a great way to meet your fellow business people of the Valley.” Winning art work will also be displayed in Washington, D.C. in the offices of Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.  More information on the social mixer  is available by calling the RGVHCC at 927-0060. Featured promoting the October 14 mixer are, from left: Alma Ortega Johnson, Wells Fargo Bank’s community banking president in McAllen; Laju M. Alemán, Wells Fargo Bank’s branch manager; and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC president and CEO.

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Leadership Edinburg, a nine-month program of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce which features local business and civic leaders, strives to encourage a better community through strong skills focusing on politics, education, and quality of life. Members of the latest group, Class XXII, kicked off their new venture into public service with a one-and-a-half day retreat at South Padre Island in September. “This particular class is a dynamic group of individuals. Everyone has a positive attitude and is excited about getting to know each other, and learning about their community.  Everyone is anxious to get involved and start working on their big community project,” said Letty González, chamber president. “We are happy that the Leadership Edinburg tradition has been going strong for as long as it has been.  Leadership is a wonderful program, and we encourage anyone to become part of it.” More information on the program is available by contacting the chamber at 956/383-4974 or by going online at http://www.Edinburg.com. Featured in this photograph, but not in any particular order, are the following Leadership Class XXII members: Luis A. Adame; Steven C. Foster; Patricia L. Galindo; Homero Jasso, Jr.; Arminda A. Garza; Valerie Gosalvez; Patricia Y. Juaristi; Andrew M. Leonie; Cynthia Castillo; Granados H. Díaz; Tiffany M. Tamez; Adelita G. Ozuna; Marla Sandoval; and Victoria P. Wu. See story later in this posting.

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The McAllen Chamber of Commerce Health Fair Committee invites everyone to participate in the 27th Annual “Heart of the Valley” Health, Fitness and Wellness Fair scheduled for Sunday, November 21, from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the McAllen Convention Center. The chamber sponsors this event to promote health awareness and education to the community and to give medical and wellness businesses professionals the opportunity to give back to the community.  Also, through the fair, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce is able to educate the community about the latest treatments, procedures, services and technology available in the Rio Grande Valley. Featured promoting the event are, seated from left: Nancy Rangel; Trini Lozano; Priscilla Arredondo; and Lisa Garza. Standing, from left: Héctor Madrigal; Joel Davila; Luis Cantú; and Orlando Martínez. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg CISD recovers almost $11.3 million in back taxes, interest and penalties from past two fiscal years

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Between September 2008 and August 2010, the Edinburg school district recovered almost $11.3 million in delinquent property taxes, interest and penalties – a figure that is equal to the cost of a new elementary school and the planned renovation of the Robert R. Vela High School – plus still leaving about $1.5 million for other education priorities in the three-time All-America City.

Those figures were released by attorney Lucy Canales of Edinburg, a capital partner with Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, LLP, which provides delinquent property tax collection services for the Edinburg school district and dozens more clients in Texas, including South Texas College and the City of Edinburg.

Canales leads the South Texas efforts for her firm, which has offices in Edinburg and Brownsville.

To prove her point, the estimated costs of the four new elementary schools recently built or planned in Edinburg is about $8.8 million a piece, and the anticipated cost for the planned renovation of Harwell Middle School into Robert R. Vela High School is about $1 million, according to Gilbert Tagle, ECISD’s public information spokesman.

“The collection results indicate that our efforts continue to be successful for the school district,” she told trustees during their Tuesday, September 14 regular board meeting.

She added that in the past year alone, Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, LLP increased its collections for overdue property taxes and related interest and penalties on behalf of the school district by more than half a million dollars.

“Last year as of August 31, 2009, collections for the school district were $5,379,949.20,” Canales said. “This year for the same time period (September 2009 through August 2010), collections for the school district were at $5,919,908.86, an increase of almost $540,000.”

Working with taxpayers during tough times

She noted that her firm was able to increase collections “despite the harsh economic factors affecting the disposable income of  all school taxpayers and all countywide taxpayers. We are very proud of these results.”

In addition, Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, LLP has filed 99 lawsuits during the past year seeking to collect an additional $1 million in delinquent property taxes for ECISD.

As of August 31, Canales said her firm had 481 lawsuits pending on the court dockets seeking to recover more than $4.5 million for Edinburg students.

But legal action is not the only tool used by her firm on to collect money for ECISD.

Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, LLP maintains a listing of proven resources and strategies to help ECISD’s delinquent property taxpayers meet their obligations to the community’s students, she said.

“We continue to place emphasis on working with individual taxpayers to collect taxes owed and to keep the tool of litigation as a final option,” Canales said, explaining that her firm also advises delinquent taxpayers of any tax breaks for which they are entitled, such as a property tax freeze for elderly and disabled homeowners and homestead exemptions.

One of the key services provided by her firm features a pre-notification program – at no cost to the school district – which involved sending more than 54,000 letters between October 2009 and August 2010 to the school district’s delinquent property taxpayers.

“We want for your (delinquent) taxpayers to get a bill just like they get their electric bill every month to remind them to come in and try to make arrangements to pay their taxes,” Canales said. “The timely mailing to all delinquent taxpayers and property inspection visits are aimed at informing them of their delinquency and to advise them of the options to pay all amounts owed.”

Canales said even after a lawsuit is filed, and a court rules in favor of the school district, Linebarger  Goggan Blair and Sampson, LLP maintains an open door policy to help delinquent taxpayers.

“We would like to advise taxpayers they can still come in and make payment arrangements at our office,” she said. “At no time will we turn away a taxpayer who has come in to make a payment arrangement.”

For those delinquent tax accounts that cannot be resolved, her firm will seek foreclosure on those properties, or make arrangements to sell them at a public auction in order to generate needed funds for the school district, she said.

Getting properties back on the tax rolls

Filing a lawsuit to collect delinquent property taxes is used as a last resort, Canales said. But once the decision is made to file suit, a complete property title search is conducted, the taxable property is further identified, and all interested parties, including lien holders, are identified and serve with a notice of the lawsuit.

Once the law firm has obtained a judgment on behalf of the school district, and the taxpayer makes no effort to pay or enter into a payment agreement, Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, LLP prepared the property for possible tax sale, she said.

“Taxpayers are given ample notice and a final opportunity to pay their delinquency prior to posting of their property for sale,” Canales said. “Once posted, these properties are marketed through local newspaper advertising, our firm’s website, http://www.publicans.com, and a mailing list maintained by our Edinburg office.”

During the past year, Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, LLP sought to foreclose on 54 properties  in the Edinburg school district, resulting in 16 properties paying more than $130,000.

“We will be marketing these properties for a November 13, 2010 tax resale, which will be held on a Saturday at the Hidalgo County Courthouse, where all bidders can bid on those properties,” Canales said. “Our goal is to get those properties back on the local tax rolls, and generate money for the school district.”

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Former Sen. Uribe wants Veterans Land Board to issue bonds to help build Valley VA Hospital

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Texas Veterans Land Board, a state agency which is led by the Texas Land Commissioner, should be authorized by the Texas Legislature to issue bonds for the construction of a Veterans Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley, says former Sen. Héctor Uribe, the Democratic nominee for Texas Land Commissioner.

Uribe is facing incumbent Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican, in the Tuesday, November 2 statewide election.

In addition to serving as chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, the Texas Land Commissioner runs the Texas General Land Office, which manages more than 20 million acres of state lands and mineral-properties which generate millions of dollars annually for the state’s Permanent School Fund, which helps local taxpayers pay for the operation of public schools.

Earlier this year, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, said he plans to file legislation that would expand the authority of the Texas Veterans Land Board to issue bonds to pay for the construction of a VA Hospital in the Valley.

In addition, Uribe, a Brownsville native who served from 1981 until 1990 representing Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo and Jim Wells counties, supports a second plan by Martínez to tap into the $300 million Texas Enterprise Fund and the $200 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund to help generate money for construction of the long sought-after VA Hospital for deep South Texas.

The TEF and the TETF are major state funds, controlled by the governor, which are used to provide large state grants to help recruit new businesses to the state and to help encourage the development of cutting-edge products in the Lone Star State.

“I applaud Rep. Martínez for his creative ideas,” said Uribe. “The Veterans Land Board is certanly an appropriate agency to handle the funding of such a program. Whether it is done under the Texas Enterprise Fund or the Veterans Land Board, it is something that has to be done.”

Martínez will be introducing those bonding authority measure – along with legislation to expand the ability of the governor to use TEF and TETF money to help build a Valley VA Hospital – when the Texas Legislature returns to work for its five-month regular session in early January.

Uribe: “We have not moved quickly enough…”

Uribe unveiled his call for utilizing state resources to pay for the construction of a federal VA Hospital during a September campaign swing through deep South Texas.

“The Texas Veterans Land Board has bonding power. That bonding power does a lot of things, including giving the Veterans Land Board the authority to issue bonds to build state nursing homes for our veterans, and I think that is a good idea,” said Uribe. “But why don’t we expand that authority to include the building of a Valley hospital for our veterans? I believe if we do that, or build an existing hospital with the bonding issue, once it is done, the Veterans Administration will come and we will have immediate full service.”

In general, bonds are governmental debts sold to investors, with the promise that those investors will be repaid in full plus interest. The money raised by the government are used to pay for major projects, such as infrastructure and buildings.

Expanding the bonding authority of the Veterans Land Board to help build a VA Hospital in the Valley is a logical move, Uribe suggested.

“To me, it would be one step where we have not moved quickly enough, and we owe a debt of gratitude to our Valley veterans. The best way to repay that debt is to make sure they can receive the health care they need here in the Rio Grande Valley with a veterans hospital,” Uribe contended. “I am hoping this proposal will give us the opportunity to discuss the potential for that type of legislation next spring.”

Uribe said as Texas Land Commissioner, he would partner with the region’s congressional delegation to develop the plan to build a VA Hospital in deep South Texas.

“Of course, we will have to continue to work with our federal congressmen to make sure that we can get a fully-funded operating hospital,” Uribe said. “Obviously, we might be able to use some of the  professional health care resources that are already available in the Rio Grande Valley.”

The Texas Veterans Land Board has crucial responsibilities as well, including managing the construction of state veterans nursing homes and state veterans cemeteries.

Patterson brings his ideas to Valley veterans

Patterson was  McAllen on Friday, October 8, to meet with the Veterans Alliance, which works on behalf of the numerous veterans groups in the Valley. Patterson discussed what he plans to do to help get a VA Hospital in the Valley during that session, which was held at the Alfredo González Texas State Veterans Home, located at 301 E. Yuma Avenue.

(A story on his presentation will be featured in the next update of http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com.)

On May 17, during an appearance in McAllen by Patterson before the House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness, Martínez asked the Republican statewide officeholder what he could do to make a Valley VA Hospital a reality, particularly in light of the passage of Proposition 8 last November.

Proposition 8 —  of which Martínez was a co-author (Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, was the main author and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was the sponsor), for the first time authorizes the state government to invest resources and money into the construction, maintenance and operation of VA Hospitals statewide.

“There have been a lot of questions regarding the passing of Proposition 8, and veterans hospitals, and what the next steps are,” the Weslaco lawmaker informed Patterson during the May 17 legislative hearing in McAllen. “Would there be any way for you to give us some insights regarding VA Hospitals?”

On May 17, Patterson said his state agency is currently focusing on helping build additional state veterans nursing homes in Texas, but is not involved with the construction of VA hospitals, which are controlled by the federal government.

“As to the VA Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley, we have really nothing to do with that. We provide long-term care through our veterans homes,” Patterson said.

But Patterson added that he is “a proponent that there should be medical care available for veterans in the Valley. They should not have to travel to Audie Murphy (VA) hospital in San Antonio. In whatever form that takes, whatever can provide the care at the local area, that needs to be done.”

The nearest VA Hospital to the four-county Rio Grande Valley is the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, about 250 miles away. But for thousands of Valley veterans and their families, that distance imposes financial and physical hardships.

With an eye to the November election, Patterson reminded are veterans of his work on their behalf and for the Valley.

“The first thing I did as Land Commissioner, within 24 hours of being sworn in when I was elected in 2002, was to pick the Freddy González Veterans Home in McAllen, and the other one we picked for El Paso,” Patterson recalled. “This is an important part of Texas. There are substantial numbers of veterans down here, and they need to be served. A veteran does not have to back up and say, ‘Well, this is a hand-out’. No, this is something they earned for their honorable service in armed forces of the United States. I’m a retired Marine. This is a big deal to me.”

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Election in May 2011 most likely scenario to replace Mike Allen on South Texas College Board of Trustees

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

An election in May 2011 to replace the late Mike Allen on the South Texas College Board of Trustees is the most likely scenario, according to the Jesús “Chuy” Ramírez, the board’s legal counsel, and the two most outspoken advocates on the issue, Dr. Alejo Salinas, Jr. of Edinburg and Gary Gurwitz of McAllen.

That political development is the result of a stalemate that occurred during the STC Board of Trustees’ meeting in McAllen on Monday, September 27, regarding how to fill the vacancy left on the board by Allen’s passing on Wednesday, August 25, from complications of a cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

Going into that public meeting, held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen, STC trustees looked at two major options for filling the vacancy on the seven-member board: the six remaining trustees could appoint a successor, who would serve until a May 2012 election, or the trustees could leave the vacancy and call for an election for May 2011.

Under both options, Allen’s successor would serve the remaining portion of his term. In May 2010, Allen was elected by voters in District 3 to a new, six-year term.

Allen’s District 3 includes southwest Pharr, Hidalgo, Sharyland, southeast Mission, and Granjeno.

But because neither option received a majority vote from the trustees, the net effect is that there will be an election set for May 2011, board officials speculated.

“By not deciding to appoint someone, then they have to have an election,” Ramírez said. “I don’t know that we have enough time to do it in November, so that would put the election in May. That will give plenty of time for people to put together a campaign.”

The state election code requires, unless there is a special circumstance, such as a court-ordered election or an emergency, that each general or special election in Texas must be held on either the second Saturday in May or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Since the board must call the special election 45 days ahead of time, and there are no extenuating circumstances to shorten that time period, the election for District 3 constituents to select Allen’s successor will be held next May, Ramírez predicted.

“The odds are that we are going to have an election. That’s where we are headed,” Ramírez said.

Salinas favored May 2011 election

The political deadlock on the STC board began with a motion by Salinas, the District 5 representative on the board whose constituents live in northeast Pharr, most of Edinburg, northwest Hidalgo County, and north San Juan.

Salinas proposed that the trustees allow District 3 voters to select their new representative on the community college’s governing board.

Salinas’ motion was supported by Jesse Villarreal and Óscar Longoria, Jr..

Villarreal’s District 6 includes southeast Pharr, south Weslaco, south Alamo, south San Juan, Progreso and Donna, while Longoria’s District 2 includes western Mission, western Alton, La Joya, Palmview, Sullivan City and Penitas.

“I have been a proponent of people getting elected to the board, and my position has not changed,” Salinas said. “I will go ahead and make the motion that we authorize an election to be held….”

But those three votes did not represent the majority of the board, so Salinas’ motion failed.

Benavidez supported appointment

Although Gurwitz spoke in favor of appointing a successor, then having that appointee serve until an election that would be held in May 2012, it was trustee Rose Benavidez, whose District 1 is comprised of Starr County, who made the motion to have the board appoint a successor for Allen.

Benavidez’ motion was supported by Gurwitz and Roy De León.

Gurwitz’ District 4 includes northwest Pharr, southwest Edinburg, north McAllen, Palmhurst and northeast Mission, while De León’s District 7 includes northeast Edinburg, Hargill, northeast Hidalgo County, north Weslaco, Edcouch-Elsa, La Villa, north Mercedes, and northeast Alamo.

“I will make the motion, then, that we advertise for interviews for the position to fill the vacancy until the next board election to be filled in May 2012,” said Benavidez. “I would just add that, looking at the history, it’s pretty plain to understand that elections are important.”

She added, “Most of the time, some of these elections have been held based on a board member’s personal decision to move on, to either Congress (Rubén Hinojosa) or (La Joya) school board (Irene García). I think that when we are faced with a vacancy related to someone’s passing, perhaps the best thing to do is simply keep that vacancy from remaining open until an election, and find someone who is suitable to fill that vacancy.”

But those three votes did not represent the majority of the board, so Benavidez’ motion failed.

Following the meeting, Gurwitz and Salinas offered their views on the two options.

“I believe we need a full board. I do not believe we can wait until May 2011 to have an election. We have some very important issues that need to be decided,” Gurwitz explained. “They involve money, procedures, plans, building, students, curriculum, they involve a lot of important things, and we need to have a full board. That’s why I believe we ought to make an appointment, and (he/she) can stand for election in May 2012.”

Gurwitz suggested that not having seven members could cause problems when a swing vote is needed on key and/or controversial issues.

“It is more difficult to get a quorum we you have six people instead of seven people, and we have had problems in the past, when three people didn’t show up, which meant we couldn’t pay our bills, we couldn’t conduct our business,” Gurwitz said.

Salinas focused on allowing voters the chance to decide who will be their representative.

“The vacancy should be filled by the voters of the respective district,” said Salinas. “To me, that is very important. Here what we have is an opportunity to have someone elected for an about five-year period. The people who vote in that area should select the individual they want.

“This is something that I have been in favor during the time I have served on this board,” added Salinas, who has served as an STC trustee since 1996. “My position has been very firm on that all the way through.”

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Both sides on STC board trustee vacancy detailed in transcription of public dispute

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Monday, September 27 public dispute on how to replace fallen South Texas College board trustee Mike Allen, who passed away in late August, only a few months after his reelection to a new, six-year term, pits two strong arguments against each other, according to a transcription of the debate on the issue.

Allen’s, 72, died at a McAllen hospital on Wednesday August 25, from complications of a cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

Going into their September 27 regular board meeting, held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen, STC trustees looked at two major options for filling the vacancy on the seven-member board: the six remaining trustees could appoint a successor, who would serve until a May 2012 election, or the trustees could leave the vacancy and call for an election for May 2011.

Under both options, Allen’s successor would serve the remaining portion of his term. In May 2010, Allen was elected by voters in District 3 to a new, six-year term.

Allen’s District 3 includes southwest Pharr, Hidalgo, Sharyland, southeast Mission, and Granjeno.

But because neither option received a majority vote from the trustees, the net effect is that there will be an election set for May 2011, board officials speculated.

Highlights of the debate between board members on how to replace Allen follow:

GARY GURWITZ, CHAIRMAN, STC BOARD OF TRUSTEE:

According to our policy, and I will let (STC President) Dr. (Shirley) Reed explain in more detail, the board can either appoint or not appoint, and if we do not appoint, then we go to an election. There is a little  history in here about appointment and a little history about election.

If we go to appointment, then we have to advertise for applicants. Then, we have to interview applicants. But if we choose the appointment route, and we interview, we do not have to then select one of the people interviewed. We can then decide to go to election.

Historically, when Roy De León came on board, we interviewed and he was appointed.

When Óscar Longoria came on board, we interviewed, did not appoint, and held an election, at which time Mr. Longoria was elected.

When Rose Benavidez came on board, we did not interview…We did take applications, but then we decided not to appoint there were no other applicants other than Rose, but the board decided to go to an election, which we did.

As I understand it, if we go to election, the election would be in May 2011. Mr. Ramírez, correct me if I am wrong.

If we appoint, the appointment is until May 2012, which is the next board election, then he/she would have to stand for election for the balance of that (Allen’s) term. That’s my understanding about how it works.

Somebody want to make a motion? Do you want to talk about it? How do you want to do it?

DR. SHIRLEY A. REED, STC PRESIDENT:

The policy addressing the process is on page 93 of your packet.

DR. ALEJO SALINAS, JR., STC BOARD OF TRUSTEES:

I have been a proponent of people getting elected to the board, and my position has not changed. I will go ahead and make the motion that we authorize an election to be held….

GURWITZ:

Is there a second?

JESSE VILLARREAL, STC BOARD OF TRUSTEES:

I second it.

GURWITZ:

Is there further discussion?

I hope we don’t do it that way. I hope we go by appointment. We have a lot of important things that we have to do. We have some very important decisions to make about expansion, about financing, where we are going, how we are going to do it, how we are going to pay for it, when we are going to do it, how we are going to do it. I prefer not to wait until May to do it.

I would like for us to engage in interviews, and see if there is anyone we can agree on to appoint. That’s my feeling about it.  Anyone else have anything they want to say?

If not, all in favor (of the motion by Salinas), say “Aye”, or I guess, raise your hand?

We have a tie, so what do we do?

Somebody make the contrary motion, and let’s see if that passes.

ROSE BENAVIDEZ, VICE-CHAIR, STC BOARD OF TRUSTEES:

I will make the motion, then, that we advertise for interviews for the position to fill the vacancy until the next board election to be filled in May 2012.  I would just add that, looking at the history, it’s pretty plain to understand that elections are important.

Most of the time, some of these elections have been held based on a board member’s personal decision to move on, to either Congress (Rubén Hinojosa) or (La Joya) school board (Irene García). I think that when we are faced with a vacancy related to someone’s passing, perhaps the best thing to do is simply keep that vacancy from remaining open until an election, and find someone who is suitable to fill that vacancy.

My motion would be to find a replacement who is suitable to fill this vacancy until the next (May 2012) election.

GURWITZ:

Do we have a second?

ROY DE LEÓN, STC BOARD OF TRUSTEES:

I’ll second that.

GURWITZ:

Any further discussion?

I will remind you all that when we did not appoint Rose, and let her stand for election, we had at least, as I recall, three regularly-scheduled meetings that we could not hold because we could not get a quorum. As I recall, it was the same three people who did not attend, so we couldn’t get a quorum.  We simply cannot afford to be at stalemate at his point – actually, at any point – but particularly at this point in our development. We simply have to be able to operate. It’s unfair not to have a full board to do it.  For those of us who attend these things, it’s a tremendous handicap not to be able to get a quorum, which is what happened to us last time.

Anyway, I’ve said my peace. Anyone else want to speak?

Okay, all in favor of the motion, say ‘Aye’.  All opposed?

Okay, what do we do, Mr. Attorney (Ramírez)?

JESUS “CHUY RAMÍREZ, STC BOARD LEGAL COUNSEL:

Well, you didn’t take action, which means that you are going to request it by some form. Unless you decide on an appointment, you are going to have to hold an election, call an election.

GURWITZ:

Okay, so we don’t take any action today on this part of the agenda.

Very disappointing. Very disappointing.

••••••

Hidalgo county approves $161.9 million budget for 12-month period that began on October 1

By KARINA CARDOZA

The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, September 28, approved its budget for 2011.  The budget – which covers all activities from October 1 through September 30, 2011 – reflects a $161.9 million spending plan that pays for the maintenance of county roads, indigent health, law enforcement, courts and other essential county services.

“Despite declining property tax revenues and a sluggish national economy, we managed to put together a budget that is within our means,” said Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez. “We also are fortunate to have a very healthy fund balance at a time when so many communities are struggling to balance their budgets.”

The 2011 General Fund budget totaled $161.9 million.  With total estimated revenues certified at $156.4 million, the commissioners court was compelled to examine options to address the $5.5 million shortfall, ultimately deciding to appropriate the difference from general fund reserves while still maintaining a robust fund balance of $22 million.

“No major cuts in services or the county work force were necessary, but most of our departments will have to rely on the same level of operating funds as in 2010 despite increases in the cost of and demand for services,” said Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios.

Budget Officer Raúl Silguero added, “We also have achieved a very good bond rating this year which shows that lenders are confident in the county’s financial stability.”

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Edinburg CISD dedicates new elementary school named for Dr. Kay Teer Crawford

By GILBERT TAGLE

Edinburg Consolidated ISD school trustees and education officials on Saturday, October 2, dedicated Dr. Kay Teer Crawford Elementary, which serves northeast Edinburg at 1800 East Davis Road. It is the first of three new elementary schools built with the money generated by a bond election approved by voters in 2008.

The school’s namesake is regarded as the “Mother of the Modern Dance Drill Team”.

The school’s dedication came on the 75th anniversary of the Edinburg High School Sergeanettes drill team who Crawford created and organized in the mid-1930s while she was a teacher in Edinburg CISD.

Crawford spent her life doing what she loved best. Her dance drill instruction served as the inspiration for more than 15,000 dance drill teams nationwide and during her life time she taught more than 55,000 students. She provided drill teams for 10 Super Bowls, four Rose Bowls and seven Pro Bowls, the 1984 Olympics in Los Ángeles, the Seattle World’s Fair, the Mazatlán Carnival and New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

She was involved in the rededication of the Statue of Liberty and helped orchestrate a celebration surrounding a mass by Pope John Paul II at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Crawford died August 29, 2001 at the age of 88, leaving a legacy of excellence which continues today through Dr. Kay Teer Crawford Elementary.

History shows that it was 1930 in Edinburg, and a talented, young, Native-American girl named Kay Waweehie Teer was about to set the world on fire at Edinburg High School by becoming the first pioneer of the Modern Dance Drill Team.

Kay Teer, whose mother was half-Cherokee and half-Comanche, was born on a farm near Granger, Texas, on August 16, 1914. Her father moved off the farm to become a Hidalgo County deputy sheriff.

At EHS, she was selected for one of the school’s coveted cheerleader positions, but hated facing the envy and resentment of the 90 girls who were not chosen. Inspired by the marching of Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets at Edinburg Junior College, Kay Teer asked her principal to start a “Pep Squad”, something that all the girls could join the following year. Her idea was accepted. The Pep Squad evolved into what later would become known as the Edinburg High School Red and Blue Sergeanettes, a combination of high-spirited marching, dancing and kicking drill team.

The Sergeanettes took the field in the fall of 1936. The nonmilitary drill team, with girls performing fancy, synchronized movements, was invented by Kay Teer, and the Red and Blue Sergeanettes were the first of its kind.

Kay Teer graduated from Edinburg High School in 1932. She worked her way through Edinburg Regional College and Baylor University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree. She then went to the University of Texas at Austin, where she wrote the first master thesis on drill team in 1939. The thesis was titled The Educational Value of Drill Teams in the High School Curriculum. She passed her doctoral exams in 1943, and was awarded a doctorate degree at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Texas.

She married James H. Crawford and they had four children – sons Kim and Jay, and daughters Jan and Kris.

••••••

Hidalgo County Judge Ramírez honored for innovative Yo Cuento 2010 Census work

By RICHARD SÁNCHEZ

Hidalgo County Judge  René A. Ramírez has won a top award for his efforts to ensure a full and accurate count of Hidalgo County residents during Census 2010.

At an awards ceremony in Waco on Thursday, October 7, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, along with County Progress Magazine, announced that Ramírez had been bestowed the 2010 Excellence in Going the Extra Mile award. The public recognition specifically cited Ramírez’ launching of the Yo Cuento 2010campaign, which was designed to increase the Census count in Hidalgo County.

“I am deeply honored to win this prestigious award,” Ramírez said. “The Census is taken every 10 years to provide a snapshot on this nation’s population. However, its ramifications are huge. Billions of federal dollars are allocated to states, counties and cities based upon the Census count. The number of congressional and state House and Senate seats we get are also based upon the Census count. So, ensuring a full and accurate count in 2010 was one of my top priorities when I was appointed county judge.”

In 2000, the last time the U.S. Census Bureau undertook a full Census count, Hidalgo County was shortchanged. Tens of thousands of its residents were not counted, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars over the course of the next ten years.

Ramírez was determined not to let the same thing happen in 2010. When he took office in November, 2009, many cities and counties, including Hidalgo County, had already formed Complete Count committees. City and county leaders realized the importance of ensuring an accurate Census count.

Ramírez wanted to go beyond this. He was particularly concerned that Hidalgo County’s traditionally hard-to-count communities, such as colonia residents, would not be reached by Census workers. Many non-profit groups that work in colonias had the same concerns.

“Hidalgo County has the highest number of colonias in the nation, over 500 in total. Colonia residents, with some justification, are wary of officialdom. For cultural, language and political reasons, I, along with others, had real concerns they would be ignored or overlooked when Census 2010 got underway,” Ramírez said.

“I knew a major undercount would be devastating for our community over the next 10 years, particularly for our most prized asset: our children,” he continued. “After all, funding for the Head Start program, for example, is based upon a formula derived from the population count.”

With Ramírez’ leadership and partnership with business and community leaders, the Yo Cuento 2010 campaign was launched with the mission of raising public awareness about the importance of the Census and increasing participation in areas of our community that are considered hard to count because of various social and political barriers.

With money raised by the Yo Cuento 2010 campaign, non-profit groups and promotoras that work in colonias were able to provide a stipend to their workers to do Census 2010 outreach. “This was vital because these are the people colonia residents know and trust,” Ramírez said.

Funding from Yo Cuento 2010 also allowed a bilingual Web site to be built and a Spanish language TV commercial to be created. Yo Cuento 2010 T-shirts and other merchandise were given out at community events. And, Ramírez appeared on TV and radio to help promote the campaign and the importance of filling out the Census questionnaire.

Hidalgo County’s efforts to ensure a full and accurate count were dealt with what could have been a major blow in March when it became known that the Census Bureau would not be delivering Census forms to about 95 percent of the residents in colonias and some rural areas. Instead, the count would be undertaken by Census Bureau workers going door-to-door.

“Our county and the non-profits that work in the hard-to-count areas were not notified of this decision by the Census Bureau until the last minute. We had to completely revamp our message to say residents would not be receiving Census forms in the mail, as we had all been led to believe, and that they should trust the Census workers that would be knocking on their doors,” Ramírez recalled.

Ramírez sent a strongly-worded letter to Census Bureau Director Robert Groves seeking assurances that enough Census workers would be hired and that they would be able to speak Spanish.

“Despite this extra challenge, our resolve remained strong. We were determined to make sure a full and accurate count of our county was undertaken,” Ramírez said.

The county judge pointed out that Yo Cuento 2010 was very much a team effort.

“I want to publicly thank business leaders such as Alonzo Cantú and Joe Phillips, and community groups such as the Equal Voice for America’s Families network for ensuring that the Yo Cuento 2010 campaign made a difference,” he said.

Mike Seifert, who led the Equal Voice’s Census 2010 outreach efforts, had this to say about the honor bestowed upon the county judge:

“Judge Ramírez will be the first to say that he deserves no award for simply doing his job. I would note that the passion and the insight that he brought to the battle over the Census was much more than “doing a job,” Seifert observed. “I would add that his wisdom and strength on this issue are typical of his leadership style.”

Ramírez said there are many lessons to be learned from the way Census 2010 was undertaken in border communities by the Census Bureau. He will make his recommendations known in the coming weeks to Congress.

“There are certainly things the Census Bureau can and must do better in 2020,” Ramírez said.

••••••

Rebecca Cervera, GOP candidate for House District 41, and a survivor of abuse, champions legislative efforts to fight domestic violence

By STEPHINE LACEY

In observance of October being designated as Domestic Violence Awareness month, Rebecca Cervera, the Republican nominee for state representative, House District 41, says she is a victim of family violence.

A survivor of abuse, Cervera utilizes her own experience to advocate for victims. She hopes to provide strategies to encourage others to overcome abusive situations through education and healthy choices.

Cervera wants to focus others on the cycle of violence faced by many South Texans. For example, the Texas Council on Family Violence states that 31 percent of all Texans report they have been severely abused at some point in their lifetime. Among Hispanic females, that number rises to 39 percent. In 2008, 136 women in Texas lost their lives to domestic violence.

Cervera is challenging Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, in the November 2 election. If Cervera succeeds in her campaign, she would be the first Republican state legislator elected from Hidalgo County.

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.

In related political developments:

A statewide political Internet newsletter, the Quorum Report by Harvey Kronberg of Austin, has portrayed the race between Cervera and Gonzáles “as a race to watch” among this fall’s elections in state politics.

TheQuorum Report portrays itself as a non-partisan newsletter focusing on Texas politics and government. Founded in 1983, it is Texas’ oldest political newsletter. Using the power of the internet, the Quorum Report has evolved into a multi-dimensional news, information and gossip source for the politically involved. Its subscribers include most of Texas’ elected officials, lobbyists and law firms with a legislative practice.

Also, the Texas State Rifle Association, an affiliate of National Rifle Association, has awarded an “A” rating to Cervera. Candidates are sent a questionnaire each election year.  An “A” is earned when all questions are answered in support of the Second Amendment, Concealed Carry laws and the rights of Texas hunters.

••••••

Presidential proclamation: October 2010 is designated at National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

In the 16 years since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), we have broken the silence surrounding domestic violence to reach thousands of survivors, prevent countless incidences of abuse, and save untold numbers of lives.  While these are critical achievements, domestic violence remains a devastating public health crisis when one in four women will be physically or sexually assaulted by a partner at some point in her lifetime.  During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we recognize the tremendous progress made in reducing domestic violence, and we recommit to making everyone’s home a safe place for them.

My Administration is committed to reducing the prevalence of domestic violence.  Last year, I appointed the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women to collaborate with the many Federal agencies working together to end domestic violence in this country.  Together with community efforts, these Federal programs are making important strides towards eliminating abuse.

The landmark Affordable Care Act also serves as a lifeline for domestic violence victims.  Before I signed this legislation in March, insurance companies in eight States and the District of Columbia were able to classify domestic violence as a pre existing condition, leaving victims at risk of not receiving vital treatment when they are most vulnerable.  Now, victims need not fear the additional burden of increased medical bills as they attempt to protect themselves and rebuild their lives.

Individuals of every race, gender, and background face domestic violence, but some communities are disproportionately affected.  In order to combat the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in tribal areas, I signed the Tribal Law and Order Act to strengthen tribal law enforcement and its ability to prosecute and fight crime more effectively.  This important legislation will also help survivors of domestic violence get the medical attention, services, support, and justice they need.

Children exposed to domestic violence, whether victims or witnesses, also need our help.  Without intervention, they are at higher risk for failure in school, emotional disorders, substance abuse, and perpetrating violent behavior later in life.  That is why my Administration has launched the “Defending Childhood” initiative at the Department of Justice to revitalize prevention, intervention, and response systems for children exposed to violence.  The Department of Health and Human Services is also expanding services and enhancing community responses for children exposed to violence.

Ending domestic violence requires a collaborative effort involving every part of our society.  Our law enforcement and justice system must work to hold offenders accountable and to protect victims and their children.  Business, faith, and community leaders, as well as educators, health care providers, and human service professionals, also have a role to play in communicating that domestic violence is always unacceptable.  As a Nation, we must endeavor to protect survivors, bring offenders to justice, and change attitudes that support such violence.  I encourage victims, their loved ones, and concerned citizens to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 800-799-SAFE or visit:  http://www.TheHotline.org.

This month – and throughout the year – let each of us resolve to be vigilant in recognizing and combating domestic violence in our communities, and let us build a culture of safety and support for all those affected.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 2010 as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  I call on all Americans to speak out against domestic violence and support local efforts to assist victims of these crimes in finding the help and healing they need.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

BARACK OBAMA

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Congressman Hinojosa secures more than $3 million for University of Texas-Pan American

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa on Wednesday, September 29, announced the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) was awarded three grants totaling $3,630,000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the Affordable Care Act, and the U.S. Department of Education, for UTPA’s College of Health Sciences & Human Services.

“UTPA is making great strides in graduating more and more students with degrees in Science,” said  Hinojosa. “These grants, coming at the time when HESTEC is in full gear at UTPA in Edinburg, are great timing to say the least. It is very clear that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Education know what a great job UTPA is doing for our students and for our community.”

HESTEC is an acronym for Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology Week, an annual educational and community-oriented sessions hosted by UT-Pan American which are designed to encourage public school students to go to college and major in math, science and technology. This year’s HESTEC was held from September 26 through October 2.

A grant for $1,980,000 was awarded to UTPA’s College of Health Sciences and Human Services for the Expansion of Physician Assistant Training (EPAT). The program funds student stipends of $22,000 per student per year, for two years. This grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A grant for $300,000 for over a three-year period totaling $900,000 was awarded to the Department of Rehabilitation, College of Health Sciences and Human Services under the Capacity  Building for Minorities Entities Program. The program will provide outreach and capacity building to minority entities/groups with emphasis to Hispanic Serving Institutions such as UTPA. The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

A grant for $150,000 over a five-year period, totaling $750,000 was awarded to the College  of Health Sciences and Human Services under the Rehabilitation Long-Term Training-Rehabilitation Counseling Program by the U.S. Department of Education. The funding will be used to recruit students who will be taught to be vocational rehabilitation counselors. The funding will also be used for scholarships that will include full tuition, fees, and a monthly stipend of $760 for a minimum of 7 students. One of the objectives of the program is to graduate four students per year with Master of Science degrees in Rehabilitation Counseling, and require Rehabilitation Services Administration scholarship recipients to complete a practicum or internship at a state-federal vocational rehabilitation organization.

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$2.6 million in federal grants awarded to McAllen, Congressman Cuellar announces

By LESLEY LÓPEZ

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, October 6, announced that the City of McAllen has been awarded two grants, totaling $2,600,794 in federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

McAllen will receive $1,936,487.00 from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, a non-competitive program that provides direct annual funding to qualified entitlement communities.

In addition, the HOME program awarded McAllen $664,307.00.

HOME provides formula grants to states and localities which are often used, in partnership with local nonprofit groups, to fund a wide range of activities that build, buy, and/or rehabilitate affordable housing for rent or homeownership or provide direct rental assistance to low-income people.

HUD awards grants to entitlement community grantees to carry out a wide range of community development activities directed toward revitalizing neighborhoods, economic development, and providing improved community facilities and services.

Entitlement communities develop their own programs and funding priorities. However, grantees must give priority to activities which benefit low- and moderate-income persons. A grantee may also carry out activities which aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight.

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Sen. Hutchison among lawmakers who applaud passage of one-year extension of National Flood Insurance Program

By COURTNEY SANDERS

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, and Sen. John Hardy “Johnny”, R-Georgia, Isakson, on Wednesday, September 22, applauded the Senate’s passage of their bipartisan bill to extend the National Flood Insurance Program through September 30, 2011.

The measure must still pass the U.S. House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Obama.

“This one-year extension to the National Flood Insurance Program certainly comes as a relief to communities along the Gulf Coast,” Hutchison said. “I am pleased this bipartisan and timely extension also gives Congress time to get serious about modernizing the program while continuing to allow those living in the floodplains access to flood insurance.”

“I’m really glad that the Senate unanimously passed this one-year extension of the flood insurance program clearing the way for many home sales and giving a boost to our economy without increasing the deficit,” said Vitter. “I know this is a relief for the millions of homeowners who have faced uncertainty throughout this process, and I urge the House to quickly send our bill to the president for his signature.”

“Homebuyers and sellers needing this coverage can now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Nelson.

“This is good news for Tennessee homeowners and small business owners who are still trying to put their lives back together after the May flood, which was the worst natural disaster since President Obama took office, and I urge Congress to pass it,” Alexander said.

“I’m pleased we were successful in passing a one-year extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is critical for businesses and homeowners in areas prone to flooding,” said Chambliss. “The recent practice of passing short-term extensions provided unnecessary uncertainty for those who rely on the program.”

“Flood insurance is critically important for the stability of the housing industry and to those Americans seeking this coverage as they purchase a home,” Isakson said. “I’m pleased the Senate has agreed to extend the National Flood Insurance Program for an additional year.”

••••••

Congressman Hinojosa announces key provisions of national health care reform law have now taken effect for Americans

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, says that several important consumer protection features of health reform went into effect on Thursday, September 23 –  six months after Affordable Care Act was signed into law.  Better known as the Patient’s Bill of Rights, these provisions seek to end insurance company abuses, and put consumers and their doctors back in control of their own care.

“The Patient’s Bill of Rights outlaws once and for all the most egregious practices of the insurance industry,” said Hinojosa. “Now, 161,000 Texans will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance until their 26th birthday.  Almost 238,000 who hit the donut hole last year could be eligible for a rebate if they hit the donut hole this year. And, 11.7 million Texans will no longer be subject to lifetime caps on what health insurance will pay, or risk losing their coverage when they get sick.

“These new provisions are the next step towards a healthier nation and  more sustainable health care costs — and can mean the difference between life and death or security and bankruptcy for millions of families – and I am to proud to have supported them,” he said.

As of September 23, 2010, all privately-insured Americans have the following protections:

• Health coverage cannot be arbitrarily cancelled if you become sick;

• Children cannot be denied coverage due to a pre-existing conditions;

• Children up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ health plan;

• Health insurance giants cannot put a lifetime limit on health coverage; and

• Health plans’ annual limits are phased out over three years.

Also as of September 23, 2010, consumers purchasing new plans have the following additional protections:

• Patients have the right to choose their own doctor;

• Preventive services will be available without deductible or co-payments;

• Patients have the right to both an internal and external appeal of insurers’ coverage decisions; and

• Patients have the right to access out-of-network emergency room care at in-network cost-sharing rates.

While these provisions make some of the worst insurance industry practices — rescissions, coverage limits, denying coverage to sick children—a thing of the past, Congressional Republicans want to take American families back, said Hinojosa.

Nearly all House Republicans have signed on to a bill that would completely repeal these rights, subjecting American families to an old, unstable system where unjust insurance company practices go unchecked, the Democratic leader said.

“For those in Congress who are calling to return control of your health care to the insurance companies, I say to them, think about the child with asthma who can’t get coverage, a mother who is dropped by her insurance company when she gets sick, a husband fighting cancer with a cap on what treatments are covered—none of these Americans deserve to turn the calendar back. I will not allow these new rights to be taken away.”

See White  House Health  Care Reform  State by State statistics on this link:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/map#healthcare-menu

••••••

More than 50,000 Texas seniors will have to change Medicare plans soon, says Sen. Cornyn

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Thursday, October 8, released new data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) showing the impact of Washington’s policies on Texas seniors’ Medicare plans.

“When campaigning on change and pitching his massive government health care takeover, President Obama promised all Americans ‘if you like it, you can keep it.’  According to new government data, approximately 53,238 Texas seniors will be dropped from their current Medicare plan in 2011. I’m sure for the Americans losing the health care plan they like, this is not the ‘change’ they had in mind.”

Under President Obama’s new health care law and other recent changes to the Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plan programs, 53,238 seniors in Texas will be forced out of their chosen Medicare plans in 2011. While most of these seniors will be able to change to another Medicare Advantage or Part D plan, it won’t be the same one they currently enjoy. This is primarily due to the private fee-for-service (PFFS) changes in 2008 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This is just the beginning of the Medicare changes as the Obama Administration’s chief Medicare actuary estimates that the billions of dollars in cuts from the new health care law and previous reforms will reduce projected enrollment in the Medicare Advantage program by 7.4 million seniors between now and 2017.

••••••

Congressman Cuellar explains why Social Security recipients won’t get a cost-of-living increase in their 2011 retirement checks

By LESLEY LÓPEZ

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Monday, October 11, released the following statement regarding the expected hold on the 2011 cost-of-living adjustment, also known as COLA,  for Social Security recipients:

“This is simply unacceptable and we need to find a solution. Our seniors in the 28th district have earned their Social Security benefits and deserve to have their livelihoods safeguarded. While it is true that we provided a bonus payment of $250 for Social Security recipients in the spring of 2009, the economy is down, 401k balances are down, and our seniors are in an economic bind. Social Security is the sole income for many retirees and COLA is an important part of helping them keep pace with inflation.”

Background on the COLA:

The annual Social Security COLA is determined automatically according to a formula which has been in the law since 1975. Because of a lack of sufficient economic growth (and correspondingly, little increase in prices) in 2009 and 2010, the Social Security Administration is likely to announce on October 15, 2010 that there will be no COLA for Social Security benefits for 2011.

For the first time ever, the result will be a second consecutive year where Social Security retirees, veterans, and people with disabilities saw no increase in their monthly Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Administration Disability Pension and Compensation, and Railroad Retirement benefits.

The current situation is a result of economic conditions, not Congressional action or inaction. The COLA is determined by comparing the level of inflation from the third quarter of the current year to the year prior.  If positive, then the difference is applied to benefits the following January.  The spike in energy costs in the summer of 2008 resulted in a COLA of 5.8 percent, paid starting in January, 2009.

Prices dropped in the fall of 2008, and have not yet regained the level of the third quarter of 2008.

••••••

Fourteen persons charged with conspiracy to smuggle $3.1 million in cash into Mexico

By ANGELA DODGE

Fourteen passengers aboard a tour bus bound for Mexico have been arrested and charged for knowingly conspiring to evade currency transaction reporting requirements of $3.1 million in U.S. currency concealed in luggage, federal authorities announced on Wednesday, September 29.

A criminal complaint is merely an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

The actions were unveiled by U.S. Attorney José Ángel Moreno, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Alan Bersin, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton.

“This seizure of $3.1 million in undeclared currency and 14 arrests, the largest currency seizure by CBP in Fiscal Year 2010, is a magnificent achievement and serves as a validation of our enhanced outbound enforcement effort, which includes not only CBP officers and agents but also ICE-Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents,” said Bersin.

Fourteen passengers aboard a tour bus – seven U.S. citizens and seven Mexican nationals – were arrested on Sunday, September 26, 2010, by CBP officers at the Hidalgo port of entry after an intensive inspection of the tour bus resulted in the discovery of 17 pieces of luggage, each containing hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. currency.

In all 17 pieces of luggage, the cash was found wrapped in deflated air mattresses. After further investigation by ICE-HSI agents, a criminal complaint was filed on Wednesday, September 28, 2010, in McAllen charging all 14 with conspiracy to knowingly conceal more than $10,000 in currency in an attempt to transport the currency to Mexico while evading currency reporting requirements or bulk cash smuggling. The currency totaling $3.1 million in cash was seized by CBP officers.

“This seizure puts smugglers on notice,” said Morton. “ICE and CBP are working shoulder to shoulder to deny criminal organizations money they use to further their illicit activities and threaten public safety.”

The 14 passengers arrested and charged are:

U.S. citizens:

Bianca Tapia-Piñeda (Date of birth: 1990);

Jobanni Hernández (DOB: 1991);

Gabriella Hernández (DOB: 1992);

Alejandro Camacho (DOB: 1988);

Elizabeth Cornejo (DOB: 1989);

Leticia Urieta-Aguirre (DOB: 1990); and

Jonathan Nathan Gaona (DOB: 1990).

Mexican citizens:

René Fernando Espinoza-Borjas (DOB: 1964);

María Urieta (DOB: 1962);

Marcial Santana-Alemán (DOB: 1963);

Pedro Sánchez Avilés (DOB: 1966);

Jacinto Magadan Cuevas (DOB: 1970);

Margarita Patricia Jones (DOB: 1960); and

Irma Echeverría-Vega (DOB: 1959).

All 14 individuals made their initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby in McAllen on Tuesday, September 28, and were ordered temporarily detained pending detention hearings which were scheduled for Friday, October 1.

A charge of conspiracy to smuggle bulk currency out of the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and a term of supervised release.

It is not a crime to carry more than $10,000, but it is a federal offense not to declare currency or monetary instruments totaling more than $10,000 or more to a CBP officer upon entry into or exit from the U.S. or to conceal it with the intent to evade reporting requirements. Failure to declare the currency may result in seizure of the currency and/or arrest. An individual may petition for the return of the currency seized by CBP officers, but the petitioner must prove that the source and intended use of the currency was legitimate.

••••••

Verónica De León, 33, a Weslaco nurse, convicted in McAllen in health care fraud case

By ANGELA DODGE

Verónica De León of Weslaco has pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements relating to health care matters at a hearing in federal court this morning before Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Wednesday, October 5.

According to information presented in court, De León, 33, was employed by D’Oro Home Health Services as a licensed vocational nurse from September 2008 through July 2009. Her duties included visiting and treating homebound Medicare beneficiaries suffering from a variety of illnesses.

For each beneficiary visit, De León was required by Medicare regulations to fill out and submit to D’Oro a patient encounter form detailing the beneficiary’s current health status and the services that were provided during the visit. At the October 5 hearing, De León admitted to falsifying and forging encounter forms involving numerous Medicare beneficiaries, which she later submitted to D’Oro, without ever having seen the beneficiaries. De León admitted to falsifying the entire form including, but not limited to, the areas dealing with the beneficiary’s blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, cardiac and respiratory status, homebound status and the medical supplies purportedly used during the visit.

De León also admitted to forging beneficiary signatures at the bottom of the forms. D’Oro subsequently used the encounter forms to bill Medicare for thousands of dollars in reimbursement claims for skilled nursing services that were never performed.

Hinojosa has scheduled De León sentencing for January 6, 2011, at 9:30 a.m., at which time she faces a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole and a $250,000 criminal fine. De León has been permitted to remain free on bond pending sentencing.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by special agents of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Gregory S. Saikin is prosecuting the case.

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McAllen Chamber of Commerce to sponsor 27th Annual “Heart of the Valley”  Health, Fitness and Wellness Fair on Sunday, November 21

By LUIS CANTÚ

The McAllen Chamber of Commerce Health Fair Committee invites everyone to participate in the 27th Annual “Heart of the Valley” Health, Fitness and Wellness Fair scheduled for Sunday, November 21, from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the McAllen Convention Center.

The chamber sponsors this event to promote health awareness and education to the community and to give medical and wellness businesses professionals the opportunity to give back to the community.  Also, through the fair, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce is able to educate the community about the latest treatments, procedures, services and technology available in the Rio Grande Valley.

Exhibitors at the health fair will offer free health screenings in cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure, vision/glaucoma, dental, chiropractic, bone density, and live fitness routines, among others. More than 6,000 Rio Grande Valley residents and Winter Texans usually take advantage of all the services offered at the health fair.

The health fair also will feature a children’s section promoting health and wellness in children.

Contests will be held with door prizes being awarded to the best coloring contest participant in three different age categories and to the child that makes a Hole-In-One at the Miniature Golf contest. Entertainment will be provided for children as well as health and safety education.

The “Heart of the Valley”  health fair is the largest health fair in the Rio Grande Valley, according to chamber leaders, and is an excellent opportunity for businesses professionals which specialize in  health care, fitness, spa and massage, etc. to promote themselves.

Complete details about the health fair, sponsorships or for booth reservations, area residents may contact Priscilla Arredondo with the McAllen Chamber of Commerce at (956) 682-2871.

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Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg RGV to host festival, carnival on Friday, October 29

By SABRINA WALKER-HERNÁNDEZ

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV is hosting the 17th Annual Fall Festival and Halloween Carnival, on Friday, October 29, 2010, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Club 2020 El Tule Unit, located at 702 S. Veterans Street in Edinburg.

Families are welcome to join a night of great entertainment, food, and an opportunity for some wholesome family fun. The Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg RGV will feature a kiddie carnival with more than 20 booths, free candy for the kids, a costume and dance contest, and a full line of concessions.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV Teen Supreme will again be sponsoring the wildest Haunted House in town. This “Spooktacular” Haunted House will delight every member of the family, providing an unforgettable thrill. The Haunted House will run two days, Thursday, October 28  and Friday, October 29, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

For more details on the festival or the haunted house, please contact the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV at 956/383-2582.

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