Governor Rick Perry’s decision to send National Guard troops down to the Rio Grande Valley has been a controversial one since it was first announced. Critics included sheriffs along the border, who described Perry’s move as “for political reasons,” and state Democrats including gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who called for the resources to be spent on additional deputy sheriffs.
The controversy over whether to send troops to the border, however, could well be dwarfed by an economic reality that the troops are facing now that they’re down there. Specifically whether Guard units, who were deployed at the beginning of August and whose paychecks won’t be arriving until September 5, will be needing to use the local food banks. According to MySA.com:
The Texas National Guard contacted a Rio Grande Valley food bank Thursday to ask whether the charity had food and gas resources for about 50 soldiers who are in need of assistance because they have not received a paycheck.
It is unclear how many soldiers have utilized the Food Bank RGV in Hidalgo County so far because clients are not asked to detail their employment, said Omar Rodriguez, manager of communications and advocacy for the charity organization.
Texas Army National Guard Brigadier General Patrick Hamilton told the San Antonio Express-News requesting services from local charities is an “anomaly” and outside the Guard’s protocol, and that no troops visited the food bank to his knowledge.
“We identified 50 soldiers who came on at the very end of the first pay period who would see a three week lag in income,” Hamilton said, adding that the support service officer who called the food bank was “trying to help” but did so outside a chain of command.
It’s a bad look for the operation at the border for troops to be in touch with the local food bank because they haven’t been paid, and it quickly became national news. Gawker ran with the headline “Rick Perry’s Border-Deployed National Guard Troops Haven’t Been Paid,” which is overbroad and perhaps misleading (troops deployed in July were paid as scheduled; troops deployed shortly after those checks were delivered weren’t receiving late payment, they were just at the end of an unfortunate payment cycle), while Fox News found at least two soldiers who had sought independent assistance outside of the Guard’s official channels.
As Brigadier General Hamilton told the Express-News, stepping outside of the Guard for assistance is not the preferred way of dealing with these situations: a program in place with the Guard “allows troops who identify a need for assistance to contract with local restaurants and payment to be deferred until their paycheck,” which can be reimbursed out of a $36 a day per-diem. (It’s unclear why that program wasn’t utilized by the units in question.)
After the news broke before the holiday weekend, the Guard sought to walk back the story and make clarifications: The Austin American-Statesman reported that no troops who had been to the food bank could be identified (though a representative of the food bank suggested to the paper that “Maybe they come in and they just don’t tell us they’re National Guard”):
Texas National Guard officials said this afternoon they have no indication that any Guardsmen received assistance from the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.
According to spokeswoman Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a “proactive” family assistance coordinator “contacted the Rio Grande Valley food bank to see what resources were potentially available.”
The Guard said it had identified 50 service members who, because of their early August start date, weren’t going to be paid until Sept. 5.
None of those 50 troops have notified leaders that they had used the food bank, officials said.
It’s possible that this was simply a coordinator with the Guard who just made a phone call that got blown well out of proportion, but it is in the realm of reason that troops who were going to have a month-long lag in their pay might look into assistance programs. It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening here, but that, of course, hasn’t stopped politicians from weighing in on a situation that came about through something that was accused from the get-go of being about political point-scoring.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who is running to replace Perry, called the lack of resources “disgraceful” and said she will personally deliver food to the Valley for the National Guardsmen on Saturday.
“Whether you agree that we need the National Guard or the additional deputy sheriffs that I have previously called for to secure the border, it is shameful that our troops would be sent to keep us safe without basic supplies like food,” Davis said.
(AP Photo/Christopher Sherman)