FIRST ON FOX: A House Democrat lawmaker is questioning the Department of Homeland Security over what he says is an “unacceptable” decision by the federal government to deny an extension for the period in which an Arizona county hit hard by the migrant crisis can use millions in aid.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., has written to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting clarification about the use of over $5 million in funds designated for Pima County, where the number of migrants has surged from around 7,000 per month in 2022 to nearly 15,000 in 2023.
The money was given to the county as part of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program-Humanitarian (ESFP-H) which has since been phased out and replaced by the Shelter and Services Program (SSP), but local governments are still permitted to spend the money given under the prior program. Gallego says Pima County still has $5.2 million remaining to spend for Fiscal Year 22, but that its request for an extension of the period in which it can spend the funds was denied for a second time by DHS.
“At a time of increased arrivals to the border, this funding is crucial, and this lack of transparency is unacceptable,” he writes.
“Without this funding, Pima County will be forced to begin spending SSP allocations to avoid revenue deficits, leading to a far earlier fiscal cliff than initially projected — as soon as March of 2024,” he warns.
Pima County is in the Tucson Sector, which has recently seen a massive migrant surge, and Gallego says the financial costs to the county have increased significantly.
“For example, Pima County’s monthly costs to serve asylum seekers increased from $2,779,891.88 to $3,983,396.16 (a 43.29% increase) between June and October 2023, using the most cost-efficient practices. Costs for food have increased by 293%, and costs for transportation have increased by 95% in that same window,” he says.
He says that so far the county has handled over $65 million in ESFP-H awards and has acted as a fiscal agent for other entities in the sector.
“To pivot from entrusting Pima County with significant funds and grant management responsibilities to ignoring their requests for how to spend their own money is inconsistent and requires explanation,” he says.
In response to a query from Fox News Digital, DHS said that the decision was made by an independent board, which had previously extended the spending period for all subrecipients but chose not to make additional extensions.
“This decision was made by the EFSP National Board, which is an independent board that previously allocated EFSP-H funds to communities across the United States, regarding unused FY22 funds, consistent with the grant program requirements,” a spokesperson said. “The EFSP National Board previously extended the spending period for FY 2022 EFSP-H grants from Dec. 31, 2022 to March 31, 2023 in order to allow all subrecipients the equal opportunity to spend this funding. After this extension, the Board chose to not extend the spending period any further.”
A DHS official said that, consistent with that decision, the board denied the Pima County request last month to further extend the period, and no other agencies have requested extensions. The official said that Pima County has informed the Board that the money from FY22 will be returned, and it will spend down the $26 million in FY23 funding before moving to the $11 million in SSP funding.
The inquiry comes as the border is seeing a new wave of migrants, with multiple days of encounters exceeding 10,000 apprehensions this week.
Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., lawmakers have been engaged in talks over a supplemental spending agreement that includes funding for the border, as well as aid to Ukraine and Israel. The White House had requested $14 billion in funding, including for border communities, but Republicans have demanded the inclusion of asylum limits in any potential agreement.