Local communities responding to the needs of migrants released from federal custody along the border could soon apply for federal assistance through a system that would bypass the governor’s attempt to block them. 

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar announced Friday progress on the federal funding available through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP). 

“We have almost $115 million dollars that are available and can be used all the way up to 2025, for the next four years,” Cuellar said during a virtual press conference.

The majority of the funds, $110 million, were added to the EFSP as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act signed March 11.

Gov. Greg Abbott is refusing to accept federal funding set aside to repay local communities using their resources to test, shelter, and feed migrants released from Border Patrol and detention facilities since late January. 

Instead, Abbott said he preferred the federal government send its funds to federal agencies, like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where procedures already exist to test migrants.

Cuellar said FEMA and its EFSB National Board will have oversight to determine how to allocate nearly $115 million. The funding would be made available through an application that is being tailored by FEMA, the congressman said.

Nongovernmental organizations, cities and counties that are providing services like “shelter, feeding, transportation, basic health and first aid — and that covers mask, testing, and things like that — and then other supportive services,” could qualify, Cuellar explained.

Traditionally, funds used for the same purposes are replenished through reimbursements, but those can take months or even years to pay back. 

In 2019, Rev. Mike Smith, executive director of The Holding Institute in Laredo, said they didn’t receive reimbursements until about six or eight months later.

Rev. Smith, oversees the city’s only overnight shelter for migrants in the county. He’s hoping the application process will help them receive funding faster. 

“Small shelters like us can only float for about two months at this rate,” he said, referring to covering costs without new resources.

Nongovernmental organizations and other entities seeking information on enrollment can visit the United Way website for more information on the application process. 

“Only agencies that can document expenditures made to migrants released from DHS custody at the southern border are considered to receive funds for eligible services provided,” the notice on the United Way website stated.

Cuellar said he expects to receive an update on the application process on Monday.

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