Southwest Border Commission could get $33M in congressional funding if backed by Senate

Border Report

Federally-formed commission oversees border economics from California to Texas but has never been fully funded

A worker cleans near an American flag and Christmas decorations in the mostly empty El Paso International Airport amid a surge of COVID-19 cases on November 12, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A federal regional commission set up by Congress 13 years ago to oversee economic activity along the entire Southwest border could get a boost of $33 million under the House-passed Build Back Better Act, Border Report has learned.

The Southwest Border Regional Commission is one of seven federal commissions nationwide formed to oversee economic activity for large regions. However, this particular commission was never fully funded and only just got its first congressional appropriations last year.

If the Senate passes the Build Back Better Act, as currently approved by the House, the Southwest Border Regional Commission would receive $33 million and be fully funded through 2031, a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas told Border Report.

In July 2020, Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, helped to appropriate $250,000 for the commission. These were the first funds ever appropriated for it since it was formed by Congress in 2008.

Cuellar said the commission is necessary to “build critical infrastructure, expand our workforce, and strengthen our communities.”

His office said that money was only for one year and helped to provide administrative resources and to begin organizing the full commission.

But the additional $33 million — part of the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act that the House passed earlier this month — would allow the commission to be brought up to full function.

The Senate is expected next month to vote on the controversial measure, which the Biden administration is pushing and some conservative Republicans oppose.

Graphic Source: Congressional Research Service

The commission, by law, oversees 93 counties on the Southwest border from Southern California to the Gulf of Mexico in South Texas. But it has never been active.

It is necessary, Cuellar said in a newsletter, “to address economic distress in the southern border regions in or near major land ports of entry.”

If funding is received, full implementation could take about a year, his office said.

Four of the nation’s seven regional commissions are funded and active. This includes:

  • The Appalachian Regional Commission
  • The Delta Regional Authority
  • The Denali Commission (in Alaska)
  • The Northern Border Regional Commission

These commissions focus on issues relating to regional infrastructure; energy; ecology, environment, natural resources; workforce, labor; and business development, according to an April report by the Congressional Research Service.

In addition to the Southwest Regional Border Commission, neither the Northern Great Plains Regional Authority nor the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission are active, the report said.

Commission leaders are appointed by the president with advice and consent of the Senate and state governors, of which one is appointed the state co-chair.

Border Report reached out to the offices of Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and is awaiting comment.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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