Amidst Deliberation Over $14.7M in Taxpayer Dollars to Tesla, Central TX Interfaith Calls for Living Wages

[Excerpts from Community Impact & Austin Monitor]

Travis County commissioners continue to consider a plan to offer electric automaker Tesla millions of dollars in economic incentives to build a factory in eastern Travis County, but with no date yet announced for a decision on the matter. If approved, Tesla could receive nearly $14.7 million in property tax rebates across 10 years with additional rebates in the 10 years following.

At the commissioners' June 30 meeting, Travis County community members again phoned in to voice support and concern regarding the proposed incentives. Several speakers encouraged the county to leverage for greater worker wage and protection commitments.

"We are skeptical. Numerous studies have shown that local governments rarely if ever receive benefits commensurate with what incentives cost, and, despite what they say, businesses rarely if ever give incentives much weight when deciding where to locate," said [Rev.] Michael
Floyd, who spoke on behalf of Central Texas Interfaith....

Floyd...pointed out that even at the average wage cited by Tesla, a family of three would still qualify for Travis County Rental Assistance. Currently, people earning 150 to 250 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines, or $31,580 to $54,300, qualify to receive rental assistance from the county due to an expansion in eligibility requirements resulting from Covid-19.

[Photo Credit: Courtesy Tesla via Community Impact]

Travis County Continues Tesla Deliberations With No Date Set for Vote on Economic Incentives, Community Impact [pdf]

County Development Incentive for Tesla Sees More Support, Austin Monitor [pdf]

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CTI, Texas IAF Celebrates $350M Won in Local Relief, Launches GOTV Effort for Fall

Exceeding their turnout goal by 50%, more than 1,500 leaders from Texas IAF organizations assembled online and in (socially distanced) watch parties to launch a Get Out The Vote drive, pledging to deliver 200,000 voters this fall to support a nonpartisan agenda for change.

Declared the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson, pastor of Abundant Life United Methodist Church and leader with TMO: "Here today are the prophets like Moses who are called to set the people free.  Set them free from slave jobs, set them free from not having access to mental health for our adult and children, set them free from police brutality and set them free from inequality!  The Texas IAF network is ready to take to the streets and sign up voters to our agenda of issues and March them to the polls starting October 19 for early voting through election day on November 3rd."

Bishops, clergy, lay leaders, and community leaders from 10 Texas IAF organizations ratified an agenda that includes COVID-19 recovery, workforce development, healthcare access, immigration, and police reform.  Speakers included: Catholic Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller (Archdiocese of San Antonio), Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly (Diocese of Dallas), Rabbi Alan Freedman (Temple Beth Shalom in Austin), Danielle Alan of Harvard University, Paul Osterman of MIT, Luke Bretherton of Duke University, Charles Sabel of the Economic Policy Institute, and Teresa Ghilarducci and Richard McGahey of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. 

Similar statewide “Sign Up-Take Charge/Get Out The Vote” campaigns by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations have netted over $2 Billion in infrastructure funding for colonias along the border, tens of millions for workforce development for living wage jobs, over $50 Million for public school parent training and staff development, expansion of CHIP and Medicaid at the state level, and living wage measures in cities, counties, and school districts across the state.

Over the past three months Texas IAF organizations have focused on COVID-19 recovery, leveraging over $250,000,000 in rental/utility assistance and $100,000,000 in workforce development at the city and county levels, in addition to statewide and local moratoriums for utility cutoffs and evictions.

“We've won hundreds of millions in immediate COVID-19 economic relief, our organizations are now focusing on longer term workforce and economy recovery strategies brought about by the pandemic,” said Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith, a leader with St. Michael’s Episcopal and Central Texas Interfaith. “This includes long-term training for in-demand living wage jobs, reducing underlying health care disparities, and education investments like internet connectivity for students from low-income communities to bridge the digital divide.”       

Leaders pledged to identify 5,700 leaders in house meetings and small group gatherings this summer and prepare them to each deliver 36 voters to the polls this fall.   

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Blessed Are The Historymakers

According to scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann in his essay “Blessed are the History-Makers,” our religious traditions teach us that the real history-makers are not kings, presidents, or those with means of violence that seek to control and harm others, or to silence questions of power. He calls those people the history-stoppers. History-MAKERS are the outsiders, the marginalized, those carrying on the prophetic tradition with “a bold conviction about an alternative possibility that goes under the name of hope”. In scripture, God allies himself with marginalized peoples to create history.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis exposed again the twin evils of racism and violence and their effects on those systematically denied human dignity in our country. The President holding up a sacred text while having peaceful protestors dispersed with rubber bullets and tear gas is alarming. That Austin Police used tear gas and similar “less lethal” weapons on unarmed protestors in Austin, leaving at least one in critical condition, is unacceptable. “Less-lethal” weapons can still be lethal.

But as Brueggemann says, the bet of our biblical faith is that God is “allied with marginal people to create newness”: with protestors in Austin and across the country who peacefully but passionately say "enough is enough;" with Brenda Ramos, whose unarmed son Michael was killed by police in Austin, and who courageously stood before cameras calling for change in our Police Department and for non-violence in demonstrations; with the clergy of Washington DC’s St. John’s Episcopal Church who quickly denounced the President’s photo-op in front of their church; with the Washington D.C. Catholic Archbishop, an African-American man who similarly denounced a visit by the President to a Catholic shrine the next day; and with a coalition of Austin justice groups, who a few days before the President had White House security drive away protesters for his own photo-op, had cancelled their own rally, their own chance to speak before the public and the press, in order to protect the lives of their members.

This week Central Texas Interfaith is discussing these issues in our meetings with leaders in law enforcement, police oversight, and several Central Texas County Judges. CTI fully supports the mission of the Office of Police Oversight to provide impartial accountability of the Austin Police Department. We are also committed to continue working with APD and communities across Austin through our Community Policing Initiative to create opportunities for residents and police officers to engage in a constructive dialogue and build relationships which hopefully can help prevent the escalation of routine encounters into violent confrontations. And we will engage with Council Members and allied organizations to explore concrete ways to undo racism and address the long-term effects of systematic discrimination.

Austin, like most Southern cities, has a deep history of systemic and institutionalized racism towards African-Americans, as well as other people of color. We understand that these forces run much deeper than law enforcement, and pervade ALL of our institutions, from government, to civic, religious, and educational institutions. While Central Texas Interfaith will listen to all sides, in the end we will stand with the African-American community, all communities of color, and the most marginalized who are boldly leading this moment. African-American Theologian Howard Thurman, whose thought had a profound influence on Dr. King and the nonviolent philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, hoped for the very courage we are witnessing at this time: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” Central Texas Interfaith will stand with the history-makers and those who have come alive.

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Central TX Interfaith Leverages $36M in City of Austin Funding for Rental Relief

On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called on the City of Austin to provide at least $40 Milllion in rental assistance for economically distressed families in the COVID-19 crisis.   On Thursday, June 4, the Austin City Council unanimously responded.  

Central Texas Interfaith commends the Mayor, Austin City Council and City Manager for approving a COVID spending framework that includes nearly $24 million new dollars for the RENT Program plus $12 million new dollars for the RISE Program for direct income support.  

That, combined with other additional new sources, puts the City of Austin well over the $40 million dollars in new rental assistance that Central Texas Interfaith has called for. It also includes tens of millions more in financial support for those in need. We look forward to working with the City of Austin and other organizations on implementation of these programs and beginning to look at our longer term economic recovery and workforce strategies. 

Austin Council Approves Over $200M for COVID-19 Emergency Response, CBS Austin 

Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to RentersAustin American Statesman [pdf]

Advocates Call on Austin to Provide $40M for RentersKXAN [video[pdf]

Austin Allocating Far Less in Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis Compared to Other Texas CitiesKVUE (Pre-conference) [video[pdf]

Austin Nonprofit Seeks Assistance for RentersKVUE [video[pdf]

Organización Pide se Asignen Más Fondos de Alquiler Para Familias de AustinUnivsión [video[pdf]

Organización Pide a Comisionados del Condado Travis que Aprueben Fondos de Asistencia para el Alquiler de las Familias Afectadas por el CoronavirusUnivisón [video][pdf]

Travis County Approves $10M for Direct Rental and Mortgage AssistanceAustin Monitor [pdf]

Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance ProgramAustin Monitor [pdf]

Headlines / Quote of the Week Austin Chronicle [pdf]

Austin Top News - May 14, 2020 KLBJ [pdf]

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Central TX Interfaith Leverages $10M from County in Added Housing Support, Calls on City to Invest $40M in Rental Relief

On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County one day prior, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called on the City of Austin to provide at least $40 Milllion in rental assistance for economically distressed families in the COVID-19 crisis.  

Leaders noted that while at present, the City of Austin invests $1.2 million for rental assistance, and $7 million overall toward housing assistance, over 50% of low income Austin residents are considered “cost-burdened” (ie. pay over 30% of their income toward housing costs) and 93% of Very Low Income Austin residents are “distressed renters”.

Parish leaders from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic in East Austin argued that “though evictions have been halted, rent and late fees are piling up, and many residents are receiving warnings from landlords to pay up."

Said Rev. Miles Brandon of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, "Austin did well by creating the RISE fund and some rental assistance programs, but we can, and must do more.”

Extravagant GenerositySt. Michael's Trumpet 

Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to RentersAustin American Statesman [pdf]

Advocates Call on Austin to Provide $40M for RentersKXAN [video[pdf]

Austin Allocating Far Less in Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis Compared to Other Texas CitiesKVUE (Pre-conference) [video[pdf]

Austin Nonprofit Seeks Assistance for RentersKVUE [video[pdf]

Organización Pide se Asignen Más Fondos de Alquiler Para Familias de AustinUnivsión [video[pdf]

Organización Pide a Comisionados del Condado Travis que Aprueben Fondos de Asistencia para el Alquiler de las Familias Afectadas por el CoronavirusUnivisón [video][pdf]

Travis County Approves $10M for Direct Rental and Mortgage AssistanceAustin Monitor [pdf]

Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance ProgramAustin Monitor [pdf]

Headlines / Quote of the Week Austin Chronicle [pdf]

Austin Top News - May 14, 2020 KLBJ [pdf]

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Bastrop Interfaith Calls on Sheriff to Stop Targeted Arrests of Immigrants During Pandemic

[Excerpt below]

Update at 5:35 p.m. – Group says Bastrop County's targeted arrests are dangerous during pandemic

Local groups in Bastrop County are asking the sheriff to stop targeted arrests aimed at Latino communities in the area, which they say complicate things for many families during the COVID-19 pandemic

Bastrop Interfaith, a coalition of neighborhood groups and church congregations in the county, is asking Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook to stop his crackdown on minor traffic violations, which was flagged by the Austin American-Statesmen last week.

The group says the crackdown has led to a spike in deportations and arrests in mostly immigrant and Latino communities, and is putting many residents at risk.

Edie Clark, a leader with Bastrop Interfaith, said families already dealing with financial insecurity are now too scared to even pick up food at a food pantry.

“These people are just dealing with so many issues right now,” she said. “The last thing that we need is to be scaring people about being arrested. You know, we want to keep everybody safe.”

Clark said filling up jails during the pandemic is also a public health hazard. Her group has asked to meet with the sheriff to discuss this new policy.

Covid-19 April 27th Updates: Catholic Charities Inundated with Calls for Aid Money, KUT 90.5 

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Central TX Interfaith Supports Relief in a State Emergency (RISE), Recommends Direct Income Payments

Central Texas Interfaith understands that millions of low-income people across the country will not be reached by the benefits of the CARES Act, leaving the most vulnerable with limited options to survive, let alone recover from the Covid-19 crisis. Included in these millions are members of our congregations, our schools, nonprofit associations, and neighbors. It is for that reason that our organization is calling on Congress to provide sustained financial support to every person in the United States through the duration of the crisis, and the Governor to invest Rainy Day funds in similar ways.

Our City has the opportunity today to invest local dollars in those left out of the federal stimulus package. Extending financial relief to them is not only in line with our faith traditions but will give us all a better chance of recovering from this public health crisis. We ask our Mayor and City Council to support the RISE (Relief in a State Emergency) fund, and we recommend that a substantial portion of those funds go directly into the hands of people through direct income payments. Direct aid is the most economically efficient way to support low-income individuals and families, and to provide survival options for those most in need. Direct income payments furthermore offer stimulative supports to our local economy and reduce administrative and bureaucratic overhead. We also support funding for other vital social services like food pantries, which are currently experiencing shortages.

For the sake of efficiency, and for justice, we hope that the Council will support the RISE fund, make funding available to people left out of the current stimulus packages, and ensure that a substantial portion of that funding be provided as direct income assistance.

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Central TX Interfaith, with Waco Mayor and County Judge, Convenes 100+ Clergy to Navigate Stay-at-Home Orders

With the coronavirus transforming the way religious congregations operate all over Texas, Central Texas Interfaith has been at the forefront of efforts in Waco and McLennan County to bring together congregational leaders and help them navigate Stay-at-Home orders.  

Town Hall Held with Faith LeadersCBS-KWTX

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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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