County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry last week responded to several questions from Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy. Christy, who represents Green Valley and part of Sahuarita, wanted details on the county’s Casa Alitas Welcome Center operated by Catholic Community Services.
The center provides temporary shelter to migrants along with food, clothing and hygiene items. They also help them contact family members who will make travel arrangements for them and provide a place to stay while they wait for court dates. Below are the unedited questions and answers.
Q: Since its inception, how much money has Pima County invested to dates in the renovation, maintenance and general operation of the Casa Alitas facility? What are the various categories within the facility and in its operations that Pima County pays and is responsible for?
A: Approximately $697,559 was spent to renovate and operate the Casa Alitas facility initially (January 1 — January 31, 2020). All of these costs have been reimbursed through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Emergency Food and Shelter grants totaling $650,775 and a U.S. CDC Ebola Redirect grant dollars in the amount of $46,784.
Since the pandemic, operating costs have been minimal and relate to simply utility related costs for which we will again submit a grant through the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The utility costs are approximately $6,329 per month. The particular FEMA grant program is a reimbursement grant, which simply means monies will not be paid to the County for future expenses, only those that we have incurred by providing these services at Casa Alitas.
Q: Since its inception what has been the total number of asylum seekers who have been accommodated and received assistance at the Casa Alitas facility?
A: From August 2019 through February 2021, 7,555 individuals.
Q: What was the average daily population of asylum seekers up to January 1, 2021, and what is the daily population of asylum seekers from January 2 through March 1, 2021?
A: On average 20 or less.
Q: What is the average daily cost per asylum seeker incurred by Pima County and what is the average length of stay per asylum seeker?
A: Approximately 2 days.
Q: How many asylum seekers have been tested for COVID-19 and what is the COVID-19 testing policy for all asylum seekers? Which type of COVID-19 test is being utilized for this population? What is the COVID-19 positive infection rate and where is the testing being conducted? Who is paying for the testing? What is the total cost to the taxpayers to date for COVID-19 testing of this population? What next steps are taken if an asylum seeker tests positive for COVID-19?
A: All of the asylum seekers turned over to the County by US Customs and Border Protection or any other federal agency receive a COVID-19 Rapid BMX test. The Catholic Community Services staff have been trained by our Health Department staff in the operation of the BiNEX test. They conduct the test and the equipment was provided to Pima County by the State Department of Health Services at no cost to the County. The cartridges are also provided to the County by the State at no cost.
Of the tests administered to date, approximately 1 percent of asylum seekers have resulted in a positive test. The cost to the County taxpayers for this testing is minimal. If an asylum seeker tests positive for COVID-19, they are immediately isolated and placed in quarantine during the required quarantine period.
Q: Does Pima County pay NGOs for any of their support of functions at Casa Alitas? If so, to whom and how much?
A: The County does not pay any non-governmental organization (NGO) for their operation of Casa Alitas.