Change Budget Priorities to Promote Economic Equality

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.

It is troubling that despite the fact that almost three in 10 Austin-area children subsisting below the federal poverty line, and despite the city of Austin having at its disposal more funds this year than last year, no significant new investment is planned to address missing resources to lift children and families out of poverty.

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Austin Interfaith Protects Families from Utility Disconnection

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 RedAustin American Statesman [pdf]

Austin Energy to Tighten Up CollectionsAustin Monitor [pdf]



AI Launches Jobs Program for High Schoolers

1506_-_ATX_-_AAS_-_Austin_Interfaith_to_Launch_Jobs_Program_with_Three_High_Schools.jpgAustin 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 SchoolsAustin American Statesman [pdf]

Austin Interfaith Launches Internship Program for At-Risk High School StudentsCommunity Impact [pdf]

Austin Interfaith, AISD Launch New Leadership Development Program for Crockett, Lanier and Travis High Schools, Austin Independent School District

Austin Interfaith and AT&T Launch a Campaign to Keep At-Risk Students in School, KXAN

Video of Press ConferenceAISD


AI Leaders Talk Collaboration at SXSW Forum

1503_-_ATX_-_CI_-_SXSW_Talk_on_Public_Charter_Schools.jpgAttendees 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 SXSWeduCommunity Impact


Austin Interfaith Immigration Info Sessions Continue

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.


Foros Buscan Informar Sobre Decreto EjecutivoAhora Si



AI Launches Campaign on Immigration Exec Order

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!

State Leaders, Local Non-Profits React to President Obama's Immigration Plan, KEYE TV

Immigration and Student Groups Praise Obama's PlanKXAN

Resources Outlined for Undocumented ImmigrantsKEYE


AI Ensures Living Wage for Airport Concessions Workers

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.


AI Continues Fight for CoA Temp Worker Wage Standard

The Austin Monitor reports that the number of temporary employees hired by the City of Austin has increased over each of the past three years, as have the number of those employees making less than $11.50 per hour. Though the city pays all of its roughly 12,000 regular employees at least $11.39 an hour, the same cannot be said for its thousands of temporary employees.  

Said Equal Justice Center leader and AI Strategy Team member Kayvon Sabourian:

'Austin Interfaith is pleased that City Council, at the urging of Austin Interfaith institutions, is looking to bring the city’s ‘Temporary Workers’ under the City’s living wage policy...To be clear, we are talking about thousands of long-term, perennial and seasonal city jobs — jobs such as our crossing guards — not one-time gigs or strictly youth jobs. We know that in today’s economy, more and more Americans find themselves with no option but to cobble together such seasonal, part-time and contingent jobs to make ends meet...”

Many CoA Temps Make Less Than $11.50 Per HourAustin Monitor [pdf]


AI Challenges Mayoral & County Judge Candidates to Confront 30% Child Poverty Rate & Affordability

1409_-_ATX_-_Assembly.jpg300 leaders of Austin Interfaith convened Mayoral and County Judge candidates for a teach-in and accountability session at Temple Beth Shalom which included challenges on Austin child poverty, affordability, investments in human development and local immigration reforms.  In addition to yes / no responses, candidates were given several minutes to explain how they would work with the organization to address a cited child poverty rate of 30%, documented by City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson.  

Assembly night highlights included Mayoral candidate consensus on local immigration reforms (municipal identification and withdrawal).  Judge candidates agreed on very little, but did agree that expanding investments in job training programs like Capital IDEA and creating internships for Career Expressway students were valuable to the County and the taxpayers.  Strong stories on housing, immigration and Capital IDEA captured the attention of the press and galvanized the crowd.

[Photo Credit: Austin Monitor]

Full-Length VideoAustin Interfaith

Presentation on Taxes, Child Poverty & City Budget PrioritiesAustin Interfaith

Austin Mayoral Candidates Offer Different Approaches on AffordabilityAustin American Statesman 

Austin Interfaith Grills Mayoral Candidates on AffordabilityAustin Monitor [pdf]

County Judges Differ on Issues at Interfaith Event, Austin Monitor [pdf]

The Campaign Continues: Catching Up with Mayor and County Judge WannabesAustin Chronicle [pdf]

Press Conference on City Budget PrioritiesKXAN & Time Warner Cable


AI Leaders Denounce City Budget Proposal as Immoral

1409_-_Immoral_Budget_-_KXAN.jpgAustin Interfaith leaders stood on the steps of Austin Energy the first day of City budget negotiations, denouncing the proposed budget as immoral.  Said Oralia Garza de Cortes, “If our City is truly concerned about public safety, we should be placing that funding towards public institutions like libraries and programs for children and youth."

Leaders pointed to the list of budget priorities developed from hundreds of conversations on neighborhood walks, inside parish meetings and other member institutions.

Proposed City Budget is 'Immoral' Says Citizen's Group, KXAN

Faith Leaders Call for Change in Budget PrioritiesTime Warner Cable