Today, Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) applauded United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack's announcement of new federal efforts to improve water quality and public health in colonias. As announced today, the USDA will be changing its water and wastewater funding process to provide more assistance to colonias in need of improved access to clean water and sewage systems. Rural Development Acting Deputy Under Secretary Judith Canales made this announcement on Vilsack's behalf during her visit to Hidalgo County, where she toured the wastewater treatment system in the City of Peñitas.
"Improving the quality of life for people living in colonias has been a priority of mine both as a Texas state legislator and as a member of Congress. Many people living in colonias still lack access to water and waste facilities, which poses significant health risks to their communities and negatively impacts their quality of life," Congressman Cuellar said. "I thank Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rural Development Acting Deputy Under Secretary Judy Canales for their commitment to investing and strengthening colonia communities across South Texas to make sure that no one is left behind."
The USDA currently gives federal assistance to project proposals off of a point based formula system. Under the new guidelines, proposed projects that seek to provide water and waste disposal services to a colonia will receive the greatest possible number of points.
The new funding process announced today responds to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study requested by Cuellar to examine federal assistance available to colonias. The report requested by Congressman Cuellar in 2007 asked the GAO to review federal procedures regarding assistance to colonias. In December 2009, the GAO released a report describing a number of inadequacies in federal government programs across various agencies that focus on assisting colonias and noted a need for improved funding and an increase of coordination among federal agencies.
"USDA appreciates Congressman Cuellar's leadership and involvement on the House Agriculture Committee," said Rural Development Acting Deputy Under Secretary Judith Canales. "Congressman Cuellar has been a long advocate of assistance to colonias and we are glad to be working together to address health risks and strengthen our communities along the U.S.-Mexico border."
Throughout his time in office, Cuellar has been a leading advocate for people living in the colonias. As a state representative, Cuellar passed landmark legislation to help encourage the growth of the colonias. As a U.S. House Representative, Cuellar serves as the sole Democrat from Texas on the Agriculture Committee, presiding over legislation regarding rural development, farm security and trade promotion programs
A colonia is defined as a community that lacks a potable water supply, an adequate sewage systems, safe and sanitary housing, inadequate roads and drainage systems. Cuellar represents 1389 colonias in Webb, Starr, Zapata and Hidalgo Counties (Texas Secretary of State -- Directory of Colonias).