Texas lawmakers hope to protect COVID-19 relief funds from ‘potential misuse’ for border wall

Border Report

A section of border wall is seen in Hidalgo, Texas. It is unclear whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to build a similar border wall, but he has pledged to put a “barrier” around the Texas/Mexico border. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Concerned about the “potential misuse” of federal coronavirus relief funds by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to build a border wall, several Democratic lawmakers on Monday sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking her to safeguard the money.

“Given the clear statutory directive to use these funds to respond to the pandemic, there is no justification for the use of Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds to construct a border wall. There never has been and never will be a constructive purpose served by Trump’s ideologically motivated, wasteful, destructive wall. We urge the Department of Treasury to make clear in the interim final rule that these Recovery Funds cannot be used for a border wall, fence, or similar installation,” the letter reads.

The black-painted section of border wall represents the 450th mile of new border wall built under the Trump administration and was completed in McAllen, Texas. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The letter was signed by 13 lawmakers, including some who represent Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, as well as the West Texas border. And it comes on the same week that Abbott is preparing to visit the South Texas border along with former President Donald Trump.

U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela, and Vicente Gonzalez, of South Texas, signed the letter, along with U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, of El Paso. The letter was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who represents the Austin area.

The money they are referring is part of the $350 billion approved by Congress for the American Rescue Plan Act, and Doggett said he is concerned that Abbott will “nefariously divert recovery funds” toward a new border barrier.

Abbott announced during a Border Security Summit on June 10 in Del Rio, Texas, that the state will erect a “border wall” and/or a border fence on its boundary with Mexico. And he promised state seed money of $250 million to start the project.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference on details of his plan for Texas to build a border wall and provide $250 million in state funds as a “down payment.”, Wednesday, June 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

“The Biden Administration has abandoned its responsibilities to secure the border and Texans are suffering as a result,” Abbott said during a June 16 press conference in Austin. “The problems along the border are only getting worse due to President Biden’s inaction. … Texas is doing more than any state has ever done to protect the border, but it is clear that more is needed. In the Biden Administration’s absence, Texas is stepping up to get the job done by building the border wall.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin’s agency is discussing a final rule for disbursement of federal coronavirus relief funds. (Courtesy Photo)

Abbott is crowdsourcing to raise funding and reportedly has raised so far $459,000.

But that’s not enough, and the lawmakers are concerned he will tap into the COVID-19 funds for additional resources.

“He has failed to raise enough money to construct more than a few yards,” Doggett said in a statement. “We are determined to restrain him from robbing the recovery funds to misuse for this boondoggle,” Doggett said.

Currently, the federal funds from that portion of coronavirus relief may only be used for premium pay for essential workers; to assist small businesses; for public health measures in response to COVID-19; and for investments in government services, such as public infrastructure to help with the pandemic.

On Monday, for example, Gonzalez announced $5.4 million from the American Rescue Plan to assist in expanding infrastructure of three airports in South Texas, including McAllen Miller International Airport.

The letter was sent as the Treasury Department is considering a final rule for the disbursement of those federal funds.

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