Texas National Guard: No evidence that soldiers have gone to food bank for help

By JEREMY SCHWARTZ | Austin American-Statesman | Published: August 30, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (MCT) — The Texas National Guard has identified 50 soldiers deployed to the Rio Grande Valley who might be in need of financial assistance — including food help — because of a gap in receiving their first paycheck since being activated, and Texas Democrats are seizing on the issue.

But neither a local food bank nor National Guard officials said they had evidence that any soldiers have sought food assistance.

“Maybe they come in and they just don’t tell us they’re National Guard,” said Omar Ramirez, Food Bank RGV’s manager of communications and advocacy.

After Rio Grande Valley television station KGBT reported Thursday that needy troops “turned to” the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley for help, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, the Democratic nominee for governor, said she would visit the border Saturday to deliver food for the National Guard.

“It’s disgraceful that the men and women of our National Guard deployed to protect our border are forced to go to food banks,” Davis said in a statement.

According to Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a spokeswoman for the Texas National Guard, a “proactive” family assistance coordinator “contacted the Rio Grande Valley food bank to see what resources were potentially available.”

According to Guard officials, the 50 soldiers in question started their deployment to the border around Aug. 11, just after the cutoff for the next pay period, and would have to wait until Sept. 5 to receive their first paycheck. Their first week or so was spent at Camp Swift in Bastrop for training, and they received three meals a day there.

But after landing in the Rio Grande Valley, the soldiers were provided one meal per day and a $32 per diem reimbursement for food that won’t be paid until their first paycheck.

Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton said that unlike the active duty Army, there is nothing in the state’s payroll system to “front” soldiers money until their first paycheck.

He said that two National Guard soldiers told their superiors they needed financial assistance to bridge the gap until their first paycheck, but he was not aware of them using the food bank.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Rick Perry deployed the troops to help with security along the Texas-Mexico border, where record numbers of unaccompanied children from Central American were crossing illegally. Up to 1,000 troops are to be deployed to the Rio Grande Valley at a cost of $12 million per month. Department of Public Safety troopers had previously been dispatched to the border as part of a “surge” aimed at curbing cartel activity.

“Governor Perry is confident the Guard stands ready to assist any soldier who may need it, regardless of deployment or duty status so they can meet the needs of their family, or the mission they are performing,” spokesman Rich Parsons said in a statement.

But border Democrats went on the offensive Friday.

“Active duty soldiers being forced to turn to charities to get a meal is heartbreaking,” state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said in a statement. “These brave men and women have apparently been sent on a mission without accommodating for their most basic needs. We need to find immediate solutions for these hungry soldiers.”

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, said in a statement: “This is unacceptable.”

©2014 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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