As part of his promise to tour his district to speak about the impact of the latest COVID-19 relief bill, Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) made a stop in Webb County and an adjacent county.
On Monday, the congressman made a morning stop in the southern Webb County city of Rio Bravo, and by late afternoon he arrived in Zapata to discuss the same issues with the people. During both of his stops, he spoke to local officials and citizens to discuss the relief package and the resources and support that could be provided to both areas in light of the pandemic.
The main focus of the tour stops were to discuss how the COVID-19 relief package helps working families, local governments and small businesses and also how the congressman helped assure additional funding for vaccine distribution, small businesses and families in need as well as resources to close the digital divide.
His first stop to discuss such issues was in Rio Bravo around 10:15 a.m. where he met with City of Rio Bravo Mayor Gilbert Aguilar Jr. and several constituents who attended the event.
The fact that stimulus checks were just $600 was one of the main things discussed by Cuellar as people asked about what other economic relief can be expected in small communities like Rio Bravo.
“In the beginning, we wanted for the stimulus checks to be $1,200 like the first time, but (Treasury) Secretary (Steven) Mnuchin just wanted $500, so we got something in the middle,” Cuellar said.
However, he said this is not much for a family wanting to know how to spend their money whether it is for groceries, rent, medications or other essential items.
By around 1 p.m., Rep. Cuellar was in Zapata where he met with his constituents alongside Zapata County Judge Joseph Rathmell and Zapata County Sheriff Reymundo Del Bosque.
Some of the main topics discussed during the tour stop focused on how much was allocated by the first COVID-19 relief package and how the latest bill intends to distribute resources.
According to Cuellar, he was not in agreement with the way the first COVID-19 relief package worked as the state got all the authority to see how the funds could be distributed to the individual counties, which saw Zapata County only get 20% of the funds indicated.
In the meeting, Rathmell said the county is already trying to work with the state to get the other 80% of funds to have the resources for the expenses they have made, and he pointed out that will help them get back into good shape as they “reimburse all the expenses they have made.”
Although the second bill follows a similar path to the first COVID-19 relief bill in which federal resources are given to the states and not the cities and counties directly, he believes that this could change after Jan. 20.
“We were trying to get this done all since the beginning, but as you know the negotiations between the House and the Senate, the Senate didn’t want to do it as they said they didn’t want to help New York and California, and since this has nothing to do with either New York or California it was unfortunate that it got caught up in the politics of things,” Cuellar said. “So, we didn't do it even though we wanted as Zapata would have gotten the aid directly from there. I think that after Jan. 20 we can bring that back up again, so we can get the monies sent to the cities and counties directly, so we can avoid that issue.”
Vaccines were another major issue discussed during the Zapata stop.
According to Cuellar, he does not understand why vaccine distribution is a major problem right now in Texas and elsewhere as there was about 10 months for the state to prepare for the distribution of vaccines. He said the most recent COVID-19 relief bill helps fund enough for the vaccine distribution apparatus.
“Only 44% of vaccines in the state of Texas, as reported last week, have been used,” Cuellar said. “They need to get them out. I know they are setting up hubs in different areas, but my question is: What happens in rural areas? What happens in small communities? In Rio Bravo? They haven’t gotten anything. In Zapata? They haven’t gotten anything, and I know that the judge has been working really hard with the clinics.”
Cuellar said this will be a main point he will work on in the near future to ensure there are enough vaccines for all communities whether they are rural or not.
Rathmell told LMT he believes the vaccines are needed as they are the hopeful antidote to the pandemic that continues to affect the communities of Zapata and even Rio Bravo badly. He believes if the vaccines work then the end of the pandemic is in sight for all the people of Zapata and elsewhere.
Other issues discussed during the Zapata stop included hi intention for there to be more stimulus checks for people beyond the $600 sent out as he thought $2,000 was suitable, how the latest relief bill helped increase unemployment benefits and also how he helped appropriate money from the bill for initiatives regarding better broadband in the area of Zapata.
Article was originally published on January 17, 2021.