Austin Interfaith Leverages Republican Support for Medicaid Expansion

In the face of opposition from prominent Texas Republicans and Gov. Rick Perry, an increasing number of local government officials are urging legislators to expand Medicaid and obtain a federal funding windfall....Last week, the Travis County Commissioners Court tweaked a Feb. 19 resolution calling for a Medicaid expansion to satisfy its lone Republican member. That bipartisan support was “absolutely critical,” said Oralia Garza Cortes, a leader with Austin Interfaith, an advocacy group. Sister organizations in Dallas and Bexar counties helped pass similar resolutions.

On Tuesday, a group of Medicaid recipients and uninsured Texans is planning to rally at the Capitol in support of expanding the program."

Local Officials Lobby GOP Leaders to Rethink Medicaid Expansion, Austin American Statesman


With Living Wage Requirement in Place, Travis Commissioners Discuss Incentives

“This is an opportunity to create good jobs for our families,” said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, with Austin Interfaith, a coalition of churches, schools and local governments that is an advocate for jobs paying a living wage, among other issues....

The new jobs are believed to be part of the company’s plans to hire more technical workers and engineers to support its expanding business. The average annual wage for the new jobs is $65,000, and the lowest-paid 10 percent will make about $40,000, according to the county."

Travis Commissioners Discuss Incentives for National Instruments, Austin American Statesman


Medicaid Expansion Would Bring $200M+ to Travis County

The court spent time Tuesday tweaking the resolution that it passed last week to satisfy its lone Republican member, Gerald Daugherty. It was approved unanimously, 5-0.  Austin Interfaith leader Oralia Garza Cortes called the bipartisan support “absolutely critical” and said that sister organizations of the advocacy group in Dallas and Bexar counties helped pass similar resolutions this month."

Medicaid Expansion Would Bring More Than $200 Million to Travis County, Commissioners Say, Austin American Statesman 


Texas IAF Leaders Fight for Medicaid Expansion

undefined“Austin Interfaith, and the Network of Texas Organizations, convened 200 leaders from various faith traditions on the steps of the Capitol to call on Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature to expand Medicaid.

Religious leaders and clergy from throughout the state gathered at the north entrance the Capitol on Wednesday at noon to rally in support of Medicaid expansion…”


AI Leverages County Support for Medicaid Expansion

“At the urging of Austin Interfaith, the Travis County Commissioners Court this week passed a resolution supporting expansion. Dallas County has approved a similar resolution, and Bexar County is expected to do the same next week….

County and legislative leaders joined members of religious organizations, including Austin Interfaith, in a rally outside the Capitol Wednesday afternoon to urge Texas lawmakers to expand the number of low-income people covered by Medicaid.”

Religious Leaders, Politicians, Rally for Medicaid ExpansionAustin American Statesman


Austin Leaders Block Lobbyists from Rewriting Land Use Code

After Austin Interfaith leaders took issue with a proposal that “would have allowed registered lobbyists to serve on the citizen committee that will guide the rewriting of the city’s land-development code…” the proposal was pulled.

Austin Interfaith leaders asserted that allowing lobbyists on the committee amounted to “blurring the lines between the duties and responsibilities of citizens in the democratic process and the role of … lobbyists who represent organized financial interests in the legislative process….”

Following Criticism, Austin to Keep Lobbyists Off Committee to Rewrite Land Use Rules, Austin American Statesman


Travis Heights Elementary Earns School Board Praise

“School board members have lauded the process that Travis Heights used to garner support for the transformation, which they approved last month.  Unlike the district’s failed partnership with [another charter school]… the move to turn Travis Heights into a charter school had the enthusiastic backing of the school’s parents and teachers, joined byAustin Interfaith and Education Austin.

‘It’s a real democratic process that empowers the parents, empowers the teachers, empowers the students,’ said Britt Adams, a special education teacher at the school.”

[Photo Credit: Laura Skelding, Austin American Statesman]

Travis Heights Will Be Austin District’s First Home-Grown Charter SchoolAustin American Statesman

New Charter Gets School Board BlessingKXAN (12/18)

Austin School Trustees Vote to End IDEA Charter PartnershipAustin American Statesman (12/18)

Additional background here


Leaders Persist on Affordable Housing

"Austin leaders think they can champion the push for affordable housing once again.  Three members of Austin City Council are sponsoring a resolution that calls upon the city manager to explore ways of returning the issue to the ballot....'For our folks who are living on the street, there is not a pathway for them to get into any kind of home,' clergy John Elford said."

City Leaders Hope to Reintroduce Affordable Housing, YNN

'Affordable Housing' May Be on Austin Ballot Again, Fox News


Good Wages Drive Best Economic Development

Published: Austin American Statesman, December 22, 2012


   No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” — Adam Smith, “Wealth of Nations”

   “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is needy ...” — Deuteronomy 24:14

   Austin Interfaith and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce agree on several things when it comes to incentive deals. We both want businesses to come to Austin, and we want them to bring good job opportunities, with a career path, for its workers.

   However, Austin Interfaith draws the line at subsidizing poverty employment on the taxpayer dime. If a corporation wants to open shop in Austin and pay poverty wages, they are welcome to do so without economic incentives. All corporations already benefit from public sector police and fire protection, streets and drainage infrastructure, transit, garbage collection and other goods. For more than five years, our position has been that if we, as taxpayers, are going to invest our public dollars in private enterprises, it stands to reason that we, as taxpayers, should establish a threshold and protocol that prevents hardworking people from being poor and miserable.

   The chamber considers a wage threshold to be an unacceptable burden on the blue-chip corporations it recruits — even the federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,000 per year). In contrast, an analysis by the Austin Business Journal noted that the equivalent “$11 an hour floor would not be a big deal to incentive grabbers.” Just last week, Visa voluntarily accepted that same threshold.

   When the city of Austin grappled with the question of how much to pay its own employees and contractors years back, they chose the $23,000-a-year threshold to keep their workers above the poverty line. Last month, the City Council’s special committee on economic incentives bravely concluded that businesses receiving public dollars should be subject to that same standard, and proposed that future incentives only go to those that pay $11 an hour or more. Their proposal last month not only addressed the issue of wages — it would also address the process.

   The city’s current process for tax incentives involves meetings that last late into the night. Professional presentations stress that the deal will be “cash positive” to the city and bring great jobs to Austin. Austin Interfaith and others testify that many workers will be left in poverty and-or consigned to dangerous working conditions. Corporate representatives sit in shock because they thought this was a done deal. After receiving a letter from the city manager describing the offer and indicating that the deal is recommended for approval, they are here to celebrate — not to be dragged through the mud. Sometime after midnight, the deal is approved.

   Austin Interfaith, whose members include more than 30 religious, labor and educational institutions, wants these made-for-TV dramas to end. We developed a set of standards for incentive proposals to meet all stakeholders’ objectives. If tax incentives are to be granted, they should only be for companies willing to pay an hourly wage of no less than $11 an hour, including to contract construction workers. Companies should hire locally, provide benefits and support training opportunities so that people can advance at work.

   Opponents of the wage floor want to make it optional, suggesting that the city offer an extra bonus to businesses in order to “incentivize” paying at least $23,000 a year. This would lead, instead, to poverty wages.

   The chamber incorrectly claims that US Farathane would not have been eligible for incentives if even one job falls below $11 an hour. Under the committee’s proposal, a company that plans to hire ex-offenders, high school dropouts or other hard-to-employ people would certainly be eligible for an exception and could have their request considered favorably.

   A wage floor is not just about preventing physical privation. Adam Smith’s concern with poverty was about public participation in the life of community — he considered a “necessity” that which would allow one to appear, and to act, in public without shame. Our faith traditions likewise call on us to pay our workers fairly so that they can provide for their families and participate in public life with dignity.

   Austin Interfaith and its member organizations, the Worker Defense Project and LiUNA, support the special committee’s proposed wage floor.

   Higher-paid workers are more productive, loyal, creative and collaborative — and will attract the kind of corporations our city deserves.

   De Cortés and Batlan are members of the Austin Interfaith Strategy Team.



AI Leverages Unanimous School Board Vote for In-District Charter School

“Trustees voted unanimously Monday night to approve a full-scale charter partnership for Travis Heights Elementary.  The charter will be managed by a board representing teachers, community members, the district’s labor group Education Austin, and Austin Interfaith.  But unlike IDEA, school leaders agreed not to move forward on the charter unless it had the support of a majority of its teachers and the neighboring community. The school’s leaders will have greater power over their budget and curriculum.”

New Charter Gets School Board Blessing, KXAN

Austin School Trustees Vote to End IDEA Charter Partnership, Austin American Statesman

Additional background here