Delegation of West/Southwest IAF leaders and organizers stands with Pope Francis. [Photos credit: Rabbi John Linder]
Our network had the rare opportunity to visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
An interfaith delegation of 20 leaders and organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation met with him to share our collective work of broad based organizing at a time when the Pope is guiding the global church in a historic Synod listening process.
The Holy Father sat side by side with us in his residence, thanking us for inconveniencing ourselves to come see him. What ensued was a true dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish with lots of back and forth engagement. The encounter was filled with many graced moments about both the joys and the struggles of our work, and the work of the Church, past, present, and to come.
This invitation to meet was in large part due to the recognition of our work by local Bishops, particularly those involved with the 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy, which is dedicated to formation and leadership development of immigrant parishioners. As well, our involvement to support the Synod process in multiple dioceses has helped to bring those in the margins to the center of the synodal dialogue.
As we shared our experiences of organizing, we were struck by how carefully he listened, asked questions, and engaged with lots of humor. Early on, he reflected back to us, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar,’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes es parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (You constantly use the words “to see” and “to listen.. I am impressed that none of you start with any theory. No one says ‘I read a book and that interested me.’) “El peligro es intelectualizar el problema” (The danger is when you intellectualize a problem).
He stressed the importance of being with people and paying attention to their reality, emphasizing Amor Concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he understood our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result. He expressed his appreciation for our focus on what we are doing, rather than to complain about what is not being done or to disparage anyone. “Ustedes no menospreciaron a nadie.”
Before concluding, he thanked us for our visit, saying that although he had never known of IAF before, he was glad that he knew us now, and he welcomed further conversation around our continuing work with the Synod process.
We teach that power recognizes power. For Pope Francis, “el verdadero poder es el servicio,” (“true power is service”). Recounting the Good Samaritan, he clearly stated that the Gospel cannot be understood without acting with those who are suffering. He recognized the leaders and organizations of the IAF and the powerful work that is happening every day at the margins. He referred to the IAF as “Good News for the United States.”
We are humbled to represent the many decades of work from those who preceded us, and we are encouraged in the continuation of our work into the future.
Reverend Minerva Camarena Skeith of St. John's Episcopal Church explains to Jon Stewart how Central Texas Interfaith/Texas IAF organizations fight corporate incentives that negatively impact public budgets, including schools.
“What’s happening right here, right now, very powerful.” -- Jon Stewart
In a Behind the Scenes Cut, Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith describes how communities can organize.
Full episode and panel discussion streaming on Apple TV+.
In meetings with Hays County Commissioners, Corridor Interfaith leaders in Central Texas emphasized the importance of workforce development in one of the fastest growing counties in the county. The Commissioners Court responded, increasing its public investment in long-term job training by 10% to $55,0000 in the upcoming fiscal year.
Capital IDEA graduate Mary Helen testified, saying: "After working as a paramedic... I went back to college and earned my RN degree. I currently work as an ICU nurse at Ascension Seton Network and provided care to the first COVID patients in our region."
The Chapter 313 program, authorized in 2001, allows Texas school districts to cap the taxable value of a property for some new projects, saving companies tens of millions of dollars in taxes, or more. It is set to expire at the end of December, after a bipartisan coalition in 2021 stopped efforts to reauthorize the program.
Critics of Chapter 313 call it corporate welfare that deprives Texas public schools of funding....
The Rev. Miles Brandon of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church in Round Rock spoke in support of ending the program for good. He appeared on behalf of the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation and Austin Interfaith, both community... groups.
Clock is Ticking on Texas' Chapter 313 Incentives -- and Major Projects May Miss Out, Austin Business Journal [pdf]
Last night the City of Austin voted on a budget that includes one of the highest living wages for their workers: $20/hr for municipal workers including contracted workers and those employed by corporations benefiting from City tax subsidies. At the urging of Central Texas Interfaith, through meetings with individual council members and communications that persisted even as votes were taken on amendments, the City of Austin expanded emergency assistance for struggling renters and sustained spending on essential human development initiatives including long-term workforce development and after-school programs.
- $20/ hour base pay for all City of Austin staff, contract employees and employees of corporations receiving City tax subsidies - Sponsored by CM Fuentes
- $8 Million in emergency rental assistance - Sponsored by CM Vela
- $3.1 Million for long term workforce development - Sponsored by CM Alter
- Increased funding for AISD programs including Parent Support Specialists and Primetime After School programs - Sponsored by CM Tovo
Central Texas Interfaith commends the Mayor and the entire City Council for investing in these important initiatives.
Central Texas Interfaith Calls on Mayor and Council to Include Substantial Funding for Mobile Home Parks in Proposed Affordable Housing Bond
CTI has supported previous affordable housing bonds because they have advanced the preservation and creation of affordable housing including: homes for both renters and prospective buyers, permanent supportive housing, home repair for low-income homeowners, etc. However, often overlooked are the needs of residents of mobile home parks. While Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) supports the principle that the City of Austin increase its investment in affordable housing and likes many of the priorities discussed in the initial bond conversations, we call on the council to include strategies for mobile home renters to receive substantial funding by the proposed affordable housing bond.
Mobile home park residents, including those who own their home but rent the land underneath their home, are often required by their landlords to quickly repair and/or renovate their homes or face displacement. To remain in Austin, mobile home residents need access to home repair funds - which currently exclude them. More importantly, they need a mobile home park stabilization strategy – one designed to stabilize rents and prevent displacement. The City can play a role by facilitating the purchase of mobile home parks for strategies including: community land trusts, cooperative resident ownership, and/or transfer to a nonprofit or lower profit entity.
Central Texas Interfaith congregations and non-profits are directly engaged with mobile home park residents in our communities, and know the challenges they face. For CTI to be fully supportive and engaged in advocating for another affordable housing bond, we urge the council to include substantial funding for mobile home park communities in any proposed bond and city budget.
Last summer, Central Texas Interfaith/Texas IAF leaders and nonprofit allies shut down Chapter 313 (a state tax exemption program giving away hundreds of millions of dollars per year to industrial and petrochemical companies). Since then, over 400 corporate applications flooded the system ahead of the program's expiration date at the end of this year -- more than twice as many than before. Central Texas Interfaith leaders took to every medium available to raise the alarm about the potential impact on school district budgets across the state.
[Excerpts from Austin American-Statesman]
"It's fiction," said Trenton Henrichson, a computer engineer and a leader of Central Texas Interfaith, a group that is opposed to the incentives. "If you're talking about (fabrication plants) 10 years in the future... you’re just making stuff up.”
....Leaders of Central Texas Interfaith called such applications "smoke and mirrors," saying the plans are fuzzy and local officials have no way to evaluate them. The organization helped lobby against renewal of the Chapter 313 program during last year's session of the state Legislature, saying the corporate tax breaks granted under it have decreased the amount of money available for public education in the state.
'Smoke and Mirrors' or Long-Range Planning? Possible Samsung Tax Breaks Stir Debate, Austin American-Statesman
What Could Epic Samsung Expansion Mean for Central Texas? Opportunities Savored, Concerns Raised, Austin Business Journal
CTI Leaders Take Hard Stand Against NXP's Corporate Welfare Request to AISD, Community Impact, CBS Austin, Austin Business Journal, Austin Chronicle, and Austin Independent School District
Henry Saenz is technically retired but has been working part-time for the city of Austin as a facility service representative at the Austin Convention Center since 2006. In that time, his hourly pay has gone from $9 an hour to $15 an hour.
Saenz lives with his 98-year-old mother and doesn’t have to pay rent, which is how he affords to stay in the city, he said. When his mother dies and his family sells the house, he’ll have to move, he said.
“I hate to leave this town, but I just can't afford to live here,” Saenz said. “I can imagine how hard it is for someone who doesn't have the advantages that I've experienced, whose money has to go to rent.”
In his role with Central Texas Interfaith, a local advocacy group, Saenz has been among those calling on the city to pay all its employees at least $22 per hour.
[Photo Credit: Kamryn Wooten]
Austin Considers Proposal for a $22 Minimum Wage for All City Employees, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
"This takes money away from children's education and gives it to corporations, and that is a nonstarter," said Mother Minerva Camarena Skeith, [Reverend of] St. John's Episcopal Church in North Austin. "The corporation was the one that would have been their responsibility as part of our community to do their fair share of investing into our children. Right? And they have abdicated that. They just don't do that. Then we have to pick up the slack."
With Chapter 313 set to expire at the end of the year, the state's comptroller office has received a record number of applications. Since Jan. 1, 2022, school districts sent in 393 company Chapter 313 applications. In any given year before this, the office received maybe 150 applications.
"If all these things get approved, like, we could bankrupt the state," Rev. Miles Brandon worried.
"Anybody who's fiscally conservative at all should have a have a real problem with the unlimited nature of 313."
Council members got an earful Tuesday from the Living Wage Working Group, made up of unions and workers’ advocates, on why they say the living wage needs to be increased to $22 in the upcoming city budget. It’s been stuck at $15 since 2018.
"The high cost of living makes it difficult for city employees to live in the city that they work in,"
said [Rev.] Minerva Camarena-Skeith of [St. John's Episcopal Church and] Central Texas Interfaith.
The proposed change would apply to most city workers, from construction workers to airport employees to lifeguards, as well as workers for companies contracted by the city or companies which receive tax abatements. Departments citywide are plagued with high vacancy rates, as they lose workers to higher-paying private-sector jobs.
"$22 an hour is a starting place. We believe that it's still not a living wage," said Fabiola Barreto, Austin Policy Coordinator with the Workers Defense Project.
Austin City Council Considers Raising Living Wage for Workers, FOX News 7 [pdf]
City Must Raise Wages to $22/Hour Working Group Says, Austin Monitor