May 09, 2022

Reps. Castro and Escobar Urge Treasury to Investigate Possible Misappropriation of COVID Relief to Fund Operation Lone Star

WASHINGTON – Today, Reps. Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Veronica Escobar (TX-16) led seven of their colleagues from the Texas congressional delegation in a letter urging Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to investigate Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s possible misappropriation of federal coronavirus relief to fund Operation Lone Star.

Operation Lone Star is a state-led border operation launched by Governor Abbott in March 2021. Since the operation began, it has been criticized for high costs, delayed paychecks for deployed National Guard members, troop fatalities and suicides, and a lack of clear accomplishments.

In April 2022, Governor Abbott launched a series of duplicative border inspections that led to significant transit delays at the U.S.-Mexico border, costing the U.S. approximately $9 billion in lost gross domestic product. Later that same month, Governor Abbott committed to providing another $500 million to fund Operation Lone Star, which would otherwise run out of money before the end of the year. The funding will come from various Texas agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Criminal Justice, and the Juvenile Justice Department. These agencies received billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds. In today’s letter, lawmakers express concern that Governor Abbott may be allocating funds intended for coronavirus relief to fund Operation Lone Star.

The letter is additionally signed by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Colin Allred (TX-32), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Al Green (TX-09), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), and Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07). 

The full letter is here and below.

Dear Secretary Yellen:

We write to request that the Department of the Treasury review how the Texas state government, and its agencies are using Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds. On April 29, 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbott committed to providing another $500 million to fund Operation Lone Star, his state-run border monitoring program. The program needs additional funding to keep it running through the end of the fiscal year. According to Abbott, the funding will be taken from the budgets of Texas agencies, including the Department of State Health Services, Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and Juvenile Justice Department. We ask that this review be conducted to determine if Governor Abbott is diverting pandemic relief funds to provide the additional support for Operation Lone Star.

In November 2021, Governor Abbot signed Senate Bill 8 into law, allocating nearly $16 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) toward various state resources and programs.  Senate Bill 8 already committed this funding to several agencies and programs. The Department of State Health Services received over $2 billion, the Health and Human Services Commission received around $378 million, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice received $360 million. We are now concerned that this relief funding will be misappropriated to support the failed Operation Lone Star program.

As you have stated in your agency’s Final Rule for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, the funding should be used to replace lost public sector revenue due to the pandemic, respond to the far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic, provide premium pay for essential workers, and invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.  Instead, Governor Abbott is taking this funding away from integral public sector resources and allocating it to Operation Lone Star, which the Texas Legislature has already funded with almost $2 billion toward border security over the next two years. It is negligent and irresponsible for Governor Abbot to direct additional funding to Operation Lone Star, especially if the funding in question was intended to help Texans rebuild from the pandemic. 

To date, Operation Lone Star has hampered Texas’s economic recovery from the pandemic and caused significant harm to Texas National Guard members and their families. The impacts of this failed program include:

  • Hampering border commerce with duplicative border inspections, causing $4.2 billion in economic damage to the state of Texas
  • Wasting personnel resources and taxpayer dollars, especially since there is a focus on arresting asylum-seekers for misdemeanor trespassing charges. The federal government already has 23,000 agents and officers stationed along the U.S. border with Mexico, more than twice as many as last year,
  • Forcing up to 10,000 National Guard and 1,000 Texas Department of Public Safety Personnel to leave their civilian jobs and families for border deployments, where they face abysmal working conditions.
    • National Guard members are not eligible for Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare or disability benefits for injuries or deaths incurred as a result of Operation Lone Star. Guard members deployed by state governors receive state workers compensation death benefits, which amount to just a fraction of the benefits they would receive if deployed under federal authority.
    • Two soldiers assigned to Operation Lone Star have already died on duty
    • Soldiers have attempted suicide, and one solder drowned trying to save migrants because he wasn’t equipped with a flotation device,
    • Soldiers lack sufficient equipment due to the hastily deployed border mission,
    • There have been several pay issues, meaning that many soldiers were on guard for weeks before receiving their paychecks.

As you continue your oversight of the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds, we urge you to ensure all states are using these crucial funds for the reasons they were meant to be used. Texas has struggled immensely during the pandemic, and these funds are critical to help our state recover from the devastation of the past two years. Governor Abbott must not be allowed to use federal coronavirus relief funds to further his political theater at the expense of Texas families.