Austin, Texas - Austin Interfaith, an organization of 37 congregations, schools, unions and non-profits, plans to celebrate the adoption of a ground-breaking budget at a press conference Friday, Sept. 11th at 12:20pm in the Media Room of City Hall alongside supportive City of Austin Council members.
This year, Councilmembers prioritized workers, families and children in its budget. Not only did councilmembers approve an unprecedented living wage increase of 14.5%, from $11.39 to $13.03 per hour, they extended that increase to part-time temporary workers after 80 Austin Interfaith leaders lined up to demand they do so. Says Bob Batlan of Temple Beth Shalom, "we cautioned the council that limiting the living wage to full time employees, as originally proposed, would encourage out-sourcing, reduce city authority over its workers and ultimately result in lower wages across the city." Council heard the call of Austin Interfaith and included contingency workers in the new wage package. This makes Austin the first city in Texas to extend living wage standards to its part-time, temporary AND contracted workers.
This living wage increase will also apply to private employees of companies receiving taxpayer funded incentives. Healthcare benefits will additionally be made available for those who have worked for the City at least 12 months.
Other Austin Interfaith asks that made it in the budget include $350K for long-term job training provided by Capital IDEA, $684K for AISD parent support specialists, half a million for Primetime after-school programming, $357K to continue extended library hours this year, $1.6 Million to increase the tax exemption for seniors and disabled homeowners, funding for healthy food incentives and $1.65 Million added funds for parks, pools and recreational centers.
Says Wildlflower Church leader Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, "Austin Interfaith applauds those City Council members who were our budget champions. Mayor Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, Councilmembers Casar, Garza, Kitchen and Poole found creative ways to fund Austin Interfaith priorities for the benefit of the city as a whole!"
Council members Casar, Kitchen and Pool have confirmed their participation today at 12:20pm.
Austin Interfaith is a non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of 37 congregations, public schools, and unions who work together to address public issues that affect the well being of families and neighborhoods in our community.
Austin Interfaith leaders continued the push to shift city budget priorities away from police-dominant public safety to long-term investments in children and workers. At the second public hearing on the budget, Rabbi Alan Freedman testified that while public safety is "critical to existence...our goal should be to have a city where people can live."
He was accompanied by other leaders from Austin Interfaith, Seton Healthcare and UT Austin who all urged the council to invest in long-term job training program Capital IDEA.
[In Photo: Rabbi Alan Freedman]
Unmet Needs: Budget Crunch Time Arrives with Values in Conflict, Austin Chronicle
Denouncing the proposed City of Austin budget for not going far enough to pay its part-time, temporary workers well and to provide essential services to low and middle income families, eighty Austin Interfaith leaders descended on City Hall to urge the Council to prioritize the concerns of residents.
Councilmembers Delia Garza (2), Gregorio Casar (4), Ann Kitchen (5), Leslie Pool (7), Kathie Tovo (9) and AISD Board president Gina Hinojosa joined Austin Interfaith in an afternoon press conference in support of Austin Interfaith's budget priorities.
Later that night, 12 leaders spoke in support of specific items including a wage increase from $11.39 to $13.03 for all adult city employees - including part-time temporary workers, investment in Capital IDEA training, after-school programming, investments in branch libraries, improved park facilities, public water fountains, affordable housing, and healthy food incentives.
The second and final public hearing is at 11:00am on Thursday, August 27th. The final vote is scheduled early September.
[Photo Credit: Jim O'Quinn]
Religious Leaders Speak out on City Budget, Time Warner Cable
Night Moves, Austin Chronicle
Minorities, Low Income Residents Top Budget Amendment Requests, Austin Monitor [full text here]
Luckless at Capitol, Wage Advocates Go Local, Texas Tribune
In the Austin American Statesman, by Fr. Bill Wack & Rabbi Alan Freedman of Austin Interfaith:
When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.” — Pope Francis, Gospel of Joy
The crafting of budgets is an essential activity undertaken by local governments this time of year. These budgets are moral documents — statements of our community values. These are neither left-leaning nor right-leaning values. Where we spend our collective resources reflects what matters most to all residents of Austin and Travis County.Read more
When Austin Energy moved to more quickly cut off electricity from families in arrears Austin Interfaith stepped in to negotiate a better deal for those trying to lower their debt.
The problem began with billing errors. In 2011 Austin Energy switched to a new, problematic billing system, resulting in billing errors for tens of thousands of families and collection problems for Austin Energy. Residential utility debt increased from $15.8 million in 2011 to $91 million by May 2015. With 27 thousand families in active repayment of uncollected bills, 8 thousand of which were already participating in the city’s low-income Customer Assistance Program and exempted from disconnection, Austin Energy targeted the remaining 19 thousand customers for inevitable cut-off.
Austin Interfaith leaders and allies negotiated that only those with over $1,000 in debt be subject to disconnect and that customers with smaller debt be contacted by specially trained Austin Energy representatives who will work with them to resolve the situation without disconnecting them from utilities.
Austin City Council OKs New Rules for utility Customers in the Red, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Interfaith and Austin Independent School District (AISD) jointly announced they will launch a program to train high school students at Travis, Crockett and Lanier how to land and keep a job.
Modeled off the Summer Youth Employment program, created by Austin Interfaith 20 years ago in partnership with the City and County, this program will teach high schoolers leadership and soft skills like timeliness, and professional conduct with bosses and colleagues. Another goal is to develop summer internships in 2016 for students who complete the leadership training. Senator Kirk Watson was in attendance at the press conference at which AI leaders Rev. Robert Elford and Ms. Ofelia Zapata spoke.
This program launch is happening with the support of AT&T.
[Photo Credit: Julie Change / Austin American Statesman]
Austin Interfaith to Launch Jobs Program at Three High Schools, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Interfaith Launches Internship Program for At-Risk High School Students, Community Impact [pdf]
Austin Interfaith, AISD Launch New Leadership Development Program for Crockett, Lanier and Travis High Schools, Austin Independent School District
Attendees of a SXSW talk on education heard plenty about collaboration from Austin Interfaith leaders Ken Zarafis (President, Education Austin) and Lisa Robertson (Principal, Travis Heights Elementary) in a discussion about AISD's first public charter school. Supt. Cruz, who was Chief Schools Officer at the time, recognized that autonomy and trust was crucial in the process.
"It’s about trying to create a different type of culture that allows for excellence and innovation," he said.
The school gained signatures of support from 97 percent of teachers and staff, as well as support from 90 percent of its school community and board approval.
[In photo, Austin Interfaith Leaders Ken Zarifis and Lisa Robertson flank AISD Supt. Cruz. Photo Credit: Kelli Weldon, Community Impact]
Austin ISD, Education Austin Talk Collaboration at SXSWedu, Community Impact
Austin Interfaith's second information session, held by members San Jose Catholic Church and the Equal Justice Center Monday, Dec. 1st, drew over one hundred people (mostly parishioners) seeking information about the President's executive action on immigration. EJC lawyer Megan Sheffield warned participants against falling prey to notario fraud and urged all to begin collecting essential documents and funds for the expected application fee.
The first session, held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, drew 77 participants seeking the same information.
In the wake of President Obama's immigration speech announcing executive action, and in partnership with the Equal Justice Center, Austin Interfaith is proud to announce two evening information sessions over the next 10 days to ensure that all who might qualify have access to affordable legal assistance and knowledge of the basics.
- 7pm, Tues. November 25 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
- 7pm, Mon. December 1 at San Jose Catholic Church
Join us and learn!
On Thursday, November 20, Austin Interfaith successfully ensured that contracts for concessions at Austin Bergstrom International Airport will require that concession workers be paid no less than the City Of Austin Living Wage. Austin Interfaith was the only voice from the community that advocated for this before the Airport Advisory Committee and City Council.
Austin Interfaith applauds D'Ann Johnson of the Airport Advisory Committee and Councilmember Laura Morrison for their support in bringing this issue forward.
At this time, the City of Austin living wage is set at $11.39 per hour. Leaders are working with labor partners across Central Texas to increase this living wage, and ensure that City of Austin temporary workers are similarly included.