Central Texas Interfaith & Texas IAF Declare State Power Failure an 'Act of Sheer Negligence' and Demand Accountability from Elected Officials
While state officials announced later in the day that power had stabilized and forced shutoffs were no longer needed, more than 300,000 households remained without power....Texas was especially hard hit because most of its power grid is isolated from the interconnected networks serving the eastern and western parts of the U.S. That made it difficult to import energy from other states when frozen pipes shut down generating station.
The failure of Texas' electric grid led faith leaders across the state on Thursday to call out Gov. Greg Abbott for a lack of leadership and preparation. They urged him to request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and dip into the state's $10 billion "rainy-day" fund to help Texans cover expensive home repairs and energy bills.
They also called on state leaders to act on a 2012 plan to modernize and weatherize the electric grid....
"We are calling for Gov. Abbott to first take responsibility for this gross negligence and stop finger-pointing. This is a gross act of negligence that has caused harm to the whole state of Texas, and it's time to put people over profits," the Rev. John Ogletree of the First Metropolitan Church of Houston said at a virtual press conference Thursday. The event was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 10 mostly faith-based organizations statewide that represents more than 1 million people....
"The storm may have been an act of nature, but the devastation of the electrical grid shutdown is an act of sheer negligence," Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Diocese added in a statement.
Kelly and other faith leaders who spoke during the press conference and with EarthBeat described the struggles facing their state's people because of the freeze: Temperatures in homes hovering at 30 degrees. Elderly people unable to use dialysis machines. A 76-year-old woman sleeping in her car for warmth. Churches that would typically offer shelter could not because they too lacked power and water...
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, National Catholic Reporter
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
Central Texas Interfaith & Allies Call on State and Local Governments to Beat December Deadline for Coronavirus Rental Relief
Before the pandemic, Maria Ramirez (in photo above) and her husband made more than enough money to afford their two-bedroom apartment in Dallas. Now, they owe $4,000+ in back rent and late fees. When they applied for local aid, they were denied.
"For four months, millions of these funds have wafted around the corridors of City Hall while each day vulnerable families are threatened with evictions," said Jon Lee, a retired pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church and leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Texas IAF leaders across the state are working with local elected officials to spend down millions in assistance dollars that they leveraged earlier this year. Onerous online application processes and excessive documentation requirements hampered access to available assistance for the most vulnerable. Warned Rev. Michael Floyd of Central Texas Interfaith, "Families who lost employment are racking up months of unpaid rent and as eviction moratoriums end, they will be forced out of their homes."
Texas IAF leaders and allies are also calling on the Governor to draw down available funding for rental assistance for smaller cities. If not spent by the end of the year, unspent dollars will have to be returned to the US Treasury.
Says Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, of TMO, “The CDC order create[d] a welcomed pause in evictions in this area, but it is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31.”
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
TMO Call[s] on Leaders to Halt Evictions, Congress to Pass Next Stimulus Bill, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Central Texas Interfaith & Austin Apartment Association Call for $100 Billion in Emergency Rental Relief
After distributing $1.2 million in May, the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department announced Tuesday $17.75 million will be available to help renters in the second round of the Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) Program.
The city will use a lottery system to pick funding recipients, so for people like Carlota Garcia with Central Texas Interfaith, the worry is about those who won’t get picked.
“No longer are we able to borrow from friends or borrow from family, savings accounts have been pillaged, there is no cushion left for people,” she said. “This moment has the potential to become disastrous.”
She said the state and the federal government should create a plan that gets those in need help beyond the next six months.
“In order for us to be able to prevent families from falling into starvation, or worse, we really need to have the federal government step up, as well as the statewide government..."
[Photo: Footage by KXAN]
Joint Statment on Emergency Rental Relief, Central Texas Interfaith & Austin Apartment Association
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]
County Development Incentive for Tesla Sees More Support, Austin Monitor [pdf]
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.
"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]
Statement by Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, Central TX Interfaith
Statement by Bryan Lopez, Assumption Catholic Church in Houston, TMO
Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Catholic Diocese of Austin recently penned the following in advance of a statewide celebration of the 40+ year anniversary of the Texas IAF set for Saturday, April 30th:
"The Texas Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) Network Forty Years of Organizing Celebration is a significant summit to highlight the great achievements of your blessed efforts in support of families and communities. On behalf of the faithful of the Diocese of Austin, and in my own name, I congratulate you on more than forty years of service and organizing in Texas.
Austin Interfaith, through its virtuous work, proves that those living in poverty are more than figures and statistics. Austin Interfaith provides leadership development to enable citizens to collaborate and navigate effectively through the political process with governmental and community leaders around issues of common concern...."
[Photo Credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez, Ahora Si!]
"In 1988, then-East Austin resident Ofelia Zapata was among the first helped by a new group whose mission is to build stronger communities by teaching residents how to organize and leverage their political capital.
Born poor and with visual disabilities, the young widow with three daughters joined Austin Interfaith, a non-denominational, non-partisan umbrella organization of various churches, temples and charitable community groups.
Zapata first got involved when she was a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. She wanted to ensure her daughters’ schools provided an education as good as more affluent schools across town, she said. Austin Interfaith members worked to help pass bond propositions to build parks and schools in East Austin, where she lived at the time...." Click here to read more.
Austin Interfaith Celebrates 30 Years of Building Power, Austin American Statesman [pdf]