Central TX Interfaith, Texas IAF Successfully Press State Commission for Utility Relief

"We believe people should be our priority over market, knowing that the two are not entirely disconnected.”

-- The Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church

In the only public testimony at today’s Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting, Texas IAF leader Rev. Miles Brandon of Central Texas Interfaith called on the PUC to create assistance programs and halt cutoffs for customers impacted by the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.   At the meeting the PUC voted to create the “COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program” providing financial assistance and halting service disconnections for low-income and unemployed customers in deregulated markets such as Dallas, Houston, and Round Rock  

 “COVID-19 is causing uncertainty and many hardships, and during this time, Central Texas Interfaith and our partner organizations in Texas IAF don’t want Texas citizens to have their physical or financial health put in danger unnecessarily," said Rev. Brandon, who is based in Round Rock.

PUC Chair DeAnn T. Walker recognized Fr. Brandon and the work of the Texas IAF organizations in advocating for families across the state. 

6 million Texans live in the areas impact by the measures enacted by PUC today including Round Rock, Dallas and Houston.  Texas IAF leaders plan to work with PUC leaders to extend and potentially expand these protections and assistance programs as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

[Photo Credit: Texas Tribune]

Texas Regulators Vote to Ban Residential Utility Shut-Offs During Pandemic While Buoying CompaniesTexas Tribune [pdf] 

Texans Unable to Pay Rent and Utility Bills Get Emergency ReliefNBC-DFW [pdf]

Statement by Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, Central TX Interfaith

Statement by Bryan Lopez, Assumption Catholic Church in Houston, TMO

Texas IAF Letter to the Public Utilities Commission 

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Immediate COVID-19 Call to Action

Call your Congress Member &
US Senators from Texas TODAY

For Direct Income Payments & Access to Testing!


CALL TO ACTION – Call or email your Congressperson and our 2 US Senators from Texas today to demand immediate federal funding for direct grants (income payments) to adults and an immediate expansion of funding for testing to be accessible to those who need it most, regardless of ability to pay.  We will need to continue calls/emails even if the current stimulus package being debated passes.  See talking points below. 

For phone numbers and direct email links to your Congressperson and our 2 U.S. Senators from Texas, enter your address at this website: https://www.270towin.com/elected-officials/

INTRO – “Hello, my name is (name), I am with (name of your congregation or institution) and Central Texas Interfaith.  With millions of lives at stake, we are calling on you (Congressperson’s name or U.S. Senator’s name) to advocate and vote for legislation that does the following:

ISSUE 1 - DIRECT GRANT/PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS

  • Congress should immediately pass economic stimulus measures that provide ongoing grants (direct payments) from the US government -- not just for one month, but $1,000-$1,200 per month for every adult living in the U.S. until we are clear of this crisis.
  • This should ideally target people making less than $80,000-$100,000 per year.  This would allow low- to moderate-income people and families the ability to pay rent, purchase food, and have access to basic health services, utilities, transportation and other essentials.
  • The target should be every American taxpayer, regardless of nationality or whether they use a Tax Identification Number in lieu of a Social Security Number.
  • If the current stimulus bill being debated provides at least a start of an initial payment $1,000-$1,200, then pass it.  But this should be followed up with successive legislation to make payments ongoing. 

ISSUE 2 - AVAILABILITY OF CORONAVIRUS TESTING

  • Congress should provide the funding necessary to vastly scale-up the availability of coronavirus tests for Americans who need it most. 
  • Testing should be available equally regardless of ability to pay, insured status, nationality, geographic area, and available to those who are homeless or are in the criminal justice system.
  • This includes adequate funding for ancillary testing equipment and protective gear for providers. 

Our world, and how we order our lives, has changed dramatically.  Though many of us are safely hunkered down in our homes, let us keep at the forefront of minds the elderly and most vulnerable, those experiencing homelessness, those who have lost their jobs, and those whose jobs keep us alive while putting themselves at risk, like healthcare, grocery, and other retail and service works.  After we ensure our families, friends, and others around us are safe and secure, lets carve out the time to continue to act on the faith that our collective power, will, and imagination are greatest when we keep organizing. 

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Rabbi Reice of Central TX Interfaith: Gun Owners Can — and Should! — Work to End Gun Violence

[Excerpt]

....Jewish wisdom teaches that if you don’t know if you are selling weaponry or the materials to make weapons to people who are known to be safe or people who have a history of violence, then you may not sell. American Law responds to this wisdom with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). When someone goes to buy a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), that FLL (a.k.a. the seller) contacts the NICS and the NICS staff performs the background check on the buyer.

But, if the seller doesn’t get an answer from the NICS in three business days, he can sell without a completed background check. In addition, there are no required background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales. Resulting from this loophole, the shooter in Midland-Odessa was able to purchase his gun from a private seller, though he had previous failed a background check and been denied a gun purchase from an FFL.

Addressing these loopholes is the exact topic of two bills, HR1112 and HR8, respectively. Each passed by the US House at the end of February, and each were read twice in the Senate in March. It is time to urge Senator Cornyn to take action to prevent gun violence and save lives in Texas! As a senior member of the Senate he can help pass these two bills to close these loopholes.

Central Texas Interfaith is calling on Senator Cornyn to act. We are gathering thousands of postcards from Texans like us to send to Senator John Cornyn, showing that we stand with our brothers and sisters in El Paso in the fight for gun violence prevention through national policies. When you sign and return one of these post cards in person or online you are adding your voice to the call...

Rabbi Rebecca Reice: Gun Owners Can — And Should! — Work to End Gun ViolenceHill Country News [pdf]

Central Texas Interfaith Gun Safety Online Petition

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CTI Calls for Zoning Improvements to Prevent Low-Income Renters from Slipping into Homelessness

At a special session on Austin's Land Use Code Revision, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called attention to real-time displacement happening in Northeast Austin and potential revisions in the land use code to prevent the displacement of hundreds of mobile home residents and precariously housed low-income families.  Congregational leaders stood with mobile home park residents facing eviction as they delivered testimony in support of interventions to better protect residents. 

In reference to gentrification and the displacement of low-income and people of color from Austin, CTI leader David Guarino "kicked off what would be a full day of public testimony with what he called the 'profound question.'

'Is the Austin we’re becoming truly the city we want to be?'”

Testimony by him and Francisco Martinez of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic called on the City of Austin to do better. 

Testimony by David Guarino, All Saints Episcopal [video]

Testimony by Francisco Martinez, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic [video]

Hundreds of Austinites Show Up at City Hall to Tell City Council How They Feel About Proposed Overhaul of City's Land Use Rules, Community Impact [pdf

Hundreds Attend Austin City Hall Meeting to Voice Their Opinions About the Land Development CodeKVUE 

Austin City Council Holds Special Public Hearing on Proposed Changes to Land Development CodeKXAN

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This Holiday, Let’s Focus On Hope for Homeless

Rev. John Elford, senior pastor at University United Methodist, and David Guarino of All Saints Episcopal point out how state action impacts homelessness in Austin.

[Excerpt below]

....Austin is at a critical moment in our fight to end homelessness. Recent attempts to revise the city’s old ordinances, which effectively criminalized everyday activities, brought people experiencing homelessness out of the shadows. It was hard to miss that our neighbors were suffering.

The response of the governor was to order the dismantling of encampments under state highways and provide a vacant lot off U.S. 183 as an alternative campground, far from the city’s social service and transportation hubs. As a result, many of our unhoused neighbors have been forced back to the woods, out of sight.

For years, state leaders have systematically disinvested in Texas’ public sector, exacerbating this problem. They have failed to make adequate provisions for affordable housing, social services, mental health and health care, and workforce development, pushing these costs to local governments. At the same time, these Texas leaders have limited the ability of cities to pick up the tab. They have contributed to the problem of homelessness and branded those who are suffering as criminal and disease-ridden.

The problem stretches further up the income spectrum. In one of our congregations, mobile home residents east of U.S. 183 are being pushed out by an owner who simply wants a higher rate of return. The tenants have been kicked to the curb, their last affordable housing options in Austin gone.

There is broad agreement that the real answer to people living on our streets is not relocating our neighbors, but creating sustainable housing....

[Photo Credit: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman]

Commentary: This Holiday, Let's Focus on Hope for HomelessAustin American Statesman [pdf]

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Central Texas Interfaith Launches with 320 Institutionally Embedded Delegates

After a successful 32-year history of organizing, 320 leaders from Bastrop, Comal, Hays, Travis, McLennan (Waco) and Williamson counties officially renamed and re-founded itself as Central Texas Interfaith (CTI). Leaders from 8 geographic clusters launched local organizing strategies that have extended the reach of Central Texas Interfaith into a 10-county region heading into the 2020 elections.

Leaders told gripping stories about responding to homelessness and mobile home displacement, caring for aging parents, confronting racial discrimination in traffic stops and checkpoints, winning local fights around bridges and park cleanup and the success of the IAF 'Recognizing the Stranger' immigration strategy. Delegates affirmed an agenda of issues informed by these stories and committed to signing up 50,000 voters to support that agenda across all 10 counties.

Delegates also committed to raising $250,000 to support a robust, nonpartisan accountability and Get Out The Vote strategy in 2020.

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Corridor Interfaith Expands Capital IDEA into Hays County

Leveraging $25,000 for long-term job training, Corridor Interfaith leaders from Living Word Lutheran and San Marcos Unitarian Universalism succeeded in persuading Hays County Commissioners to invest local dollars into Capital IDEA.  Once matched with state ACE funding, the investment will allow 7-10 Hays County students to train out of poverty and into middle-class careers. 

Leaders met with their Hays County representatives over several months to educate them about Capital IDEA and to advocate for the inclusion of funding in the 2020 budget.  At the final budget hearing at the commissioners' court, the request was quickly moved forward and approved!

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Civic Academy on Community Policing Engages 100 East Austin Leaders

Over 100 East Austin congregational members and officers packed the house at Holy Cross Catholic for Austin Interfaith's Community Policing Civic Academy.  The event was jointly hosted by leaders from Holy Cross, Ebenezer Baptist, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic and Mount Olive Baptist Churches. 

In this session, congregational leaders told stories, shared a brief history of community policing and broke out into small groups for conversations rooted in local experience.

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Sr. Christine Stephens, CDP: 1940 - 2019

Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.

Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.

Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.

Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.

She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.

She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.

[Photo Credit: Nuri Vallbona, National Catholic Reporter - Global Sisters Report]

Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]

Christine Stephens, COPS/Metro Alliance Leader, Remembered for her Faith, Sense of JusticeRivard Report

Sister Christine Passes AwayRio Grande Guardian [pdf]

Stephens was an Early COPS OrganizerSan Antonio Express-News [pdf]

Obituaries: 

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Austin Interfaith Commends Mayor and Council for Reforming Ordinances That Negatively Impacted People Experiencing Homelessness

Austin Interfaith commends the Mayor and City Council for addressing the negative impact of ordinances that criminalize many of the everyday activities people experiencing homelessness need to do to get by.  Austin Interfaith clergy and leaders have long expressed concern about the precarious conditions experienced by people facing homelessness.  During the elections last fall, at our accountability session, Austin Interfaith leaders called on the mayor and City Council to change these ordinances.    

Passing the proposals last night is a significant step towards achieving that goal.  

[Photo from footage by CBS Austin]

Video of Testimony at City Hall

Austin's Police Chief Says New Homeless Laws Will "Fundamentally Change" EnforcementCBS Austin

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