COVID-19 Action

The Covid-19 Pandemic is unlike any challenge we’ve faced in recent history. In order to slow the onset of the disease in our community, one of the few tools we have is social distancing. The very idea of distancing presents challenges for our institutions, our congregations, schools and associations, which all value human connection, not distance. As we face the prospect of widespread human suffering, both from the disease itself and the remedy, we need to understand and address what is happening in our community.

For 45 years, the West/Southwest IAF has used the practices and habits of organizing to assert the common good in public life. Over those years, in the midst of addressing serious issues, our best strategies have emerged when we work together.  As a network, we are employing these same strategies, sometimes with new technological tools, in the coronavirus crisis. 

Deploying a Relational Response to this Crisis:

  • Listen and caucus:
    Leaders in West / Southwest IAF Institutions are forming teams to listen and learn what is happening with people. Teams are then working with West / Southwest IAF Organizations to caucus safely via phone or online and reflect on what they’ve heard.
  • Conduct Research Actions:
    To understand this moment and how it is impacting us and our communities, West / Southwest IAF Leaders will meet, online and by telephone, with experts and public officials. 
  • Act strategically:
    West / Southwest IAF Organizations will act collectively on the local, state and federal level.

As West / Southwest IAF leaders and institutions, we are called to maintain the bonds of community and act decisively to respond to the needs of our families and neighbors.


THE LATEST


[Excerpts]

The San Juan Diego Catholic Parish in northwest Dallas was a flurry of activity Saturday afternoon.

The nonpartisan political nonprofit is one of several groups in Dallas and across the state working to get Latinos to the polls. The goal is to boost candidates who are more likely to support progressive policies that would expand health care and police reform as well as establish drivers licenses for immigrants without documentation.

The group has targeted six statehouse races in North Texas where they hope to energize voters to pick candidates who support their agenda.

Margarito Garcia Jr., 32, is one of those volunteers making phone calls, despite the fact he cannot vote in this election. He lives in the U.S. under the DACA program, which was put in place by President Barack Obama to give young immigrants brought here as children the ability to remain in the country.

“A citizen isn’t someone who is born here, but someone who cares about the community they live in,” he said about his work in the political process.

When Latino voters come out, he said, it reminds candidates that they are part of this country.

“Latinos have a voice,” he said. “Politicians need to know that when they make decisions, we are important and that we exist.”

[Photo Credit: Jason Janik/Staff Contributor]

Latino Voters Could Make a Difference in National and North Texas Races, Dallas Morning News [pdf]


[Excerpt below]

Proponents of a local ballot measure that would set up a pandemic-relief job retraining program are making a last-minute push to ensure it's not lost as voters go to the polls for the high-stakes presidential election. 

Proposition B, dubbed SA Ready To Work, calls for redirecting $154 million in sales tax revenue from aquifer protection and into retraining 40,000 workers who lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Proponents argue the program, which includes stipends and daycare, would allow the Alamo City to remake what's long been a low-wage, tourism-driven economy.  

"These were people who, before the pandemic, were working jobs that weren't very high paying and often didn't have benefits," said San Antonio Councilwoman Adrianna Rocha Garcia. "Very often, they were working multiple jobs to make ends meet." 

Proponents Make Last Minute Case for Proposition B, San Antonio's Job Training MeasureSan Antonio Current [pdf]


[Excerpt]

Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear the election has brought out many new voters. According to the Metropolitan Organization, a coalition of faith-based nonprofits in the Houston area, “low propensity voters” — which the group defines as voters who are newly registered, infrequent, young, or from communities of color — are casting ballots at rates on par with or exceeding those seen in the 2016 election in nearly all of the precincts that the group is monitoring.

Metropolitan Organization leaders credit that in part to a recent ramping up of ongoing get-out-the-vote efforts, including having church leaders focus more on civic engagement within their congregations ahead of the election.

Joe [H]iggs, an organizer with the group, said it and other nonpartisan groups have spent months doing what one leader called “disciplined” outreach to typically disenfranchised groups. Some, he said, “didn’t even know early voting was going on.”

[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle]

Campaigns Try To Reach Election Day Voters After Record Early Voting, Houston Chronicle [pdf]

 


[Excerpt below]

Increasing participation in the political process is at the heart of Bastrop Interfaith’s mission as Election Day approaches.

A nonpartisan, multi-issue organization, Bastrop Interfaith is part of a larger organization called Central Texas Interfaith, which works to address public issues that affect members of different communities.

Made up of community institutions like churches, neighborhood associations and public school groups, Bastrop Interfaith pulls together community members to address common issues.

A large part of this effort, according to Edie Clark, a Bastrop County resident and leader with Bastrop Interfaith, is developing leaders within local communities so people have the skills and opportunities to engage with public officials about salient topics.

This year, that means informing as many county residents as possible about the issues at hand for the election, and where different local and state candidates stand on them.

[County Map Courtesy of Bastrop County]

Bastrop County Nonprofit Works to Increase Voter Participation in Low Turnout AreaAustin American Statesman [pdf]


[Excerpts]

As political groups across the country make their last appeals to Christian voters, often pointing to a narrow set of issues, Sister Jane Ann Slater, chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, wants the people of faith to think more broadly...

“You look at the breadth of issues under the umbrella of common good and quality of life,” she said.

The workforce development initiative, known as “Proposition B,” is as much about helping those hit hardest by COVID-19...

For years Slater has been working with C.O.P.S./Metro, an alliance of community organizations that started with coalitions of local churches and grew over time to include labor unions and other activists to organize on immigration and living wage campaigns...winning victories throughout the 1990s and instituting programs that continue to bear fruit today, including Project QUEST, the program on which Proposition B is modeled.

When the pandemic hit, the Archdiocese of San Antonio quickly worked with C.O.P.S./Metro to ensure the city directed millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds toward housing security, but Slater said charity isn’t enough for the long term. That’s where Proposition B comes in.

C.O.P.S./Metro worked with the local community college district and employers to assure that the kind of training the new program provides will make participants eligible for jobs that already exist with room for salary growth.

They’ve also been trying to get word out to voters that the program Proposition B aims to replace, a popular aquifer protection program, will be funded by another revenue stream. Protecting environmental resources, especially clean water, is not a trade off C.O.P.S./Metro is asking people to make.

“You don’t listen to your bishop. You don’t listen to the pope. You don’t listen to the church as an institution,” Slater said, “You vote your conscience and no one can tell you you were wrong … well, they can, but you don’t have to listen.”

[Photo Credit: Our Lady of the Lake University]

Listen to Your Conscience, Not the Bishop or Pope, Texas Nun Urges Voters, SoJourners [pdf]

 


[Excerpts]

The novel coronavirus is devastating Latino communities across the country, from California’s Imperial Valley to suburban Boston and Puerto Rico. Workers at Midwestern meatpacking plants and on construction sites in Florida are getting sick and dying of a virus that is exacerbating historic inequalities in communities where residents, many of whom are “essential” workers, struggle to access health care. The undocumented are largely invisible.

Latinos, who are not a racial group and come from diverse backgrounds, make up an increasing portion of deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. More than 36,500 Latinos have died of the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by The Washington Post.

“If you look at all the negative factors, risky jobs or unemployment, unsafe housing, poor air quality and preexisting conditions, it’s all people of color,” said Carlos E. Rodriguez-Diaz, an associate professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

Angela Orea, a community organizer with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, said each day she receives desperate calls from families trying to get tested or find care. Many struggle to find transportation. Some who aren’t sick are moving out of their homes or apartments because they lost jobs and can no longer afford rent.

Every day, Amelia Averyt sees coronavirus patients at Legacy Community Health Clinic in Houston who waited too long to seek help after home remedies failed. The results can be particularly tragic for the undocumented, she said. When a family gets sick, she said, members vow to defeat the disease and take care of each other with minimal medical intervention. The repercussions can be devastating.

[Photo Credit: Sergio Flores/Washington Post]

‘It’s Just Too Much to Handle,’ In Texas, the Burden of Coronavirus on Latinos is Diverse, With an Impact That is Almost Certainly Underestimated, Washington Post [pdf]


[Excerpts]

Voting is now underway at a torrid pace, and soon we will know the much-anticipated results of our pending election. Still, we hear misguided threats and attempts to cast doubt on the election process and how well ballots will be counted.

As faith leaders of the Arizona Interfaith Network who lead congregations that claim active members of all political persuasions, we want to remind all citizens that it is important to vote, regardless of your party affiliation, and to vote with confidence.

We are impressed with both the safeguards and security measures they have put in place, especially provisions for voting during the pandemic. This includes hiring and training additional poll workers, securing safe locations for voting, and preparing for the early tabulation of mail-in ballots, currently underway.

Cooperation of citizens, candidates, and parties is crucial. We implore everyone, whatever your political leaning, to trust the process. Attempts to harass, intimidate, or otherwise suppress the vote of fellow citizens will not be tolerated. These would be an affront to the rule of law, and we will be among the first to denounce such behaviors.

[Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Arizona Capitol Times]

Vote With Confidence-Arizona Runs Election Well, Arizona Capitol Times [pdf]


[Excerpts]

El Paso County commissioners on Monday approved contributing $275,000 to a partnership that will provide emergency financial assistance to El Pasoans, with a focus on helping people excluded from earlier pandemic stimulus funds.

The Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation is offering a five-year, $500,000 match for the program, and unnamed national funders are contributing $150,000, organizers said. Other key partners are El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO)/Border Interfaith and the Family Independence Initiative.

At least 1,000 El Paso County families this year will benefit from cash grants of up to $500, which they can use to cover any expense or financial obligation. The partnership especially wants to reach undocumented and mixed immigration status households that were barred from receiving $1,200 stimulus checks and other COVID-19 relief help approved by Congress.

“They were already in the shadows and now even more in the sense that their poverty became even bigger poverty in the sense of things were not moving,” said Rev. Pablo Matta, a Catholic priest and a leader with EPISO/Border Interfaith, which will assist FII in reaching families in need of assistance. “They work so hard and they’re a big part of the economy of El Paso and all throughout the U.S., but never very much taken into account at all.”

Woody Hunt, the El Paso businessman who chairs his family’s philanthropic foundation, said the $500,000 donation builds off of efforts in the spring to shore up the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger food bank in the early stages of the pandemic.

“And during that time period, I had some discussions with EPISO, which I’ve kind of met with regularly over a very long period of time, and I know they had concerns about those within the community that were at the very bottom end that in some cases didn’t qualify for some of the federal programs that were coming out,” Hunt said.

“FII has a platform, they’ve been doing it for 20 years, they’ve got the technology to do it. They need local partners like an EPISO who can really identify either directly or through the Catholic Church that they work with, those that really have the greatest need,” Hunt said.

Many low-income families in El Paso face cumbersome application processes and a lack of access to computers and other technology to apply for assistance, said Dolores De Avila, a longtime leader with EPISO.

[Photo Credit: Robert Moore/El Paso Matters]

Low-Income El Pasoans Can Get Emergency Financial Help From New Partnership, El Paso Matters [pdf]


Jackie Gomez is a U.S. citizen and the mother of five kids from McKinney. She is married to a Mexican national. When she found out that she wasn’t eligible for a stimulus check, Gomez felt like it was “a slap in the face.”

Because of the economic downturn, Gomez has faced economic hardships, including not sending her oldest child to Collin Community College. When everyday Americans like Gomez can’t meet their basic needs, you can’t expect them to spend money on rent or utilities. They won’t be eating in restaurants, getting haircuts or buying new clothing, activities that stimulate our economy.

That is why, as faith and business leaders, we urge our Republican senators to end the unfair and immoral marriage penalty in the stimulus legislation by prioritizing the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act in the next federal coronavirus stimulus package.

Denying federal relief to mixed-status families is morally wrong. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was supposed to provide stimulus checks for all Americans with Social Security numbers. But a subtle change in federal tax law in 2017 requires both spouses in a marriage to have Social Security numbers, resulting in many Americans becoming ineligible for assistance because they are married to foreign nationals who are not U.S. citizens.

As a result of this careless oversight, 1.7 million U.S. citizens or green-card holders, along with their 3.7 million children, were left out of the stimulus package, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute. These are taxpayers who reported their earnings to our government and their exclusion is un-American to its core.

The American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., would fix this oversight by ensuring that every U.S. citizen and legal resident would receive $1,200 and each of their children would receive $500. According to TexasGOPVote, stimulus checks for the estimated 940,000 who were originally excluded in Texas would inject $508.2 million into our state’s economy.

Without steady employment and financial assistance needed due to the pandemic, many of these families could struggle to get back on their feet, increasing the likelihood of evictions, hunger and homelessness. Sen. John Cornyn has co-sponsored the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, and we ask Sen. Ted Cruz to do the same.

If Congress does not act, our state’s falling employment rate could creep back up, and our country’s recession could get worse. Families cannot wait much longer to pay their overdue rent and bills. We need Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to pass a CARES 2.0 stimulus package immediately.

Greg Kelly is the auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Dallas and a leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.

Chris Wallace is chief executive of the North Texas Commission and a co-chair of the Texas Business Immigration Coalition.

All U.S. Citizens Are Entitled To Stimulus Relief, Even If They Are Married To Foreign Nationals, Dallas Morning News [pdf]


[Excerpts]

According to community leaders, about 10,000 renters have been evicted from March through August in the Houston area before the recent eviction moratorium was put into place by the Center for Disease Control to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC ordered a national eviction moratorium, halting evictions effective Sept. 4 through the end of 2020 as COVID-19 continues to cause health and economic hardships. But residents will still be under obligation to pay rent, so those eligible need to apply to Houston’s $60 million rental assistance program allocated through the City of Houston and Harris County, said The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) members, a nonprofit of church groups.

“Evictions put us all at risk,” said TMO’s Bob Fleming. “People who are evicted move in with other people and compound liability to COVID-19 by creating more density.”

Baptist Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, as part of a TMO press conference, said, “The CDC order creates 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: Jo Ann Zuñiga, Texas Catholic Herald]

Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]


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