Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia wants to establish a fee on wire transfers of money from Texas to foreign countries to help county hospital districts foot the bill for medical services provided to indigent and uninsured patients.
Among those paying the fee would be immigrants, legal and illegal, who send portions of their wages earned in the United States to relatives in their home countries. According to figures compiled by the Inter-American Development Bank, immigrants in Texas wire more than $3 billion to Latin American countries every year, the third highest total of any state.
The fee would amount to 50 cents (0.5 percent) per hundred dollars wired, with a maximum charge between $5 and $10. Garcia argues that it is important to keep the maximum fee low enough that banks and import-export businesses would be willing to pay rather than find other ways of transferring cash overseas. Considering that money transfer agents charge from $5 to $15 per $100 wired to Latin America, the proposed fee seems reasonable. A bill creating the wire transfer fee has been filed in Austin by Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, and has drawn favorable responses from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and aides to Gov. Rick Perry. The Greater Houston Partnership’s health care advisory committee also has endorsed the plan
Garcia estimates that such a surcharge would return $5.7 million to Harris County this year, with those dollars earmarked for the Harris County Hospital District. Over the next 30 years, the fee, leveraged by bonds, could generate a half billion dollars for public health care here. According to Garcia, that money could allow the opening of a new trauma center and expansion of the county clinic system in her sprawling Precinct 2.
It would also defuse the arguments of some that Harris County should not provide medical services for undocumented workers regardless of ability to pay, as currently mandated by federal law. By paying the wire transfer fee, poor and illegal immigrants would be contributing to the costs of the county health system that serves them.
“It makes sense that the users of the system help pay for it,” Commissioner Garcia said. “In proposing the fee, I’m prepared to take the political hits if I have to.”
Much of the fees would be paid by businesses and bank customers, making the fees less a tax on immigration than a tax on the forces of globalism that swell the ranks of undocumented workers here.