San Benito taps grant to fund charities

Most dollars to go to San Benito city projects

SAN BENITO — For the second time in two years, local charities won their fight for their cut of federal dollars.

At first, city officials had earmarked their total Community Development Block Grant allocation of $378,668 to fund city projects.

But after the charities stood up for their slice of the federal pie, city commissioners agreed to give CDBG payments of $8,000 each to the San Benito Boys and Girls Club, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cameron and Willacy Counties, or CASA, Amigos Del Valle and Maggie’s House.

In June, officials with the Boys and Girls Club and CASA requested their cut of CDBG dollars after commissioners had set aside the money to help pay for a $1.5 million bond issue aimed at funding the planning and design phase of a proposed $8.2 million project to upgrade the city’s sewer system.

Then this month, resident Ben Cortez took the podium to request commissioners also fund Amigos Del Valle.

“It’s important we try to help them out,” Commissioner Rick Guerra said yesterday. “It’s federal money we’re entrusted with. Some get (funding) from other sources. For some, this is the only money they might get.”

However, like Commissioner Tony Gonzales, Guerra said the city’s tight $12 million general fund budget has pushed commissioners to set aside CDBG money to fund projects such as street repairs and park improvements in low-income areas.

“I’m just very pleased they made that decision,” Dora Martinez, CASA’s executive director, said yesterday. “We’re very grateful.”

Martinez said the cities such as Harlingen and Brownsville fund her agency as part of their commitment to community programs aimed at helping low-income residents.

“To completely eliminate a program’s funding — not just ours but all nonprofits — stunned me,” Martinez said, referring to the city’s original plan to cut off funding.

Martinez said she plans to use the $8,000 payment to help fund the salary of a case worker who oversees 53 San Benito foster children.

“We’re happy this funding continues because we serve San Benito children,” she said. “It directly affects the children of the community.”

At the Boys and Girls Club, Chairwoman Liz Chavez plans to use the city’s $8,000 payment to help fund two part-time jobs at the agency which serves about 370 children through its after-school and summer programs along with about 400 children who take part in team sports.

“I think we’ve made progress,” Chavez said.

Chavez said she understood city officials working on a tight budget could use CDBG money to fund eligible projects in low-income areas.

But about five years ago, a previous commission was earmarking between $15,000 and $20,000 a year to help the club.

“We know personally the situation the city is in in terms of infrastructure,” she said. “A lot of cities fund their nonprofits. The intent of CDBG is for them to give to the organization for deficits the city can’t fulfill. We hope they continue to support us.”

Earlier this month, Cortez told officials seven former city commissioners were calling on them to fund Amigos Del Valle.

“The city of San Benito has had a partnership with Amigos Del Valley for several decades, beginning in the late 1970s,” Cortez told commissioners during a meeting.

“Amigos Del Valle has been a positive force in promoting a quality of life for the elder population through its diversified and effective human services, community development activities and advocacy focused directly on low-income families. They have helped the elderly maintain active, healthy and independent lives.”

Last year, following months of debate, commissioners agreed to fund the local charities after CASA and the Boys and Girls Club fought for their share of federal money.

2019-2020 CDBG Action Plan

$213,710 — Street improvement debt payment

$75,732 — General administration

$39,996 — Resaca Trail debt payment

$17,230 — Sewer system upgrade

$8,000 — Amigos Del Valle

$8,000 — San Benito Boys and Girls Club

$8,000 — Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cameron and Willacy Counties

$8,000 — Maggie’s House

$378,668 — Total annual CDBG allocation