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.
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.
Claudia Cruz, whose primary language is Spanish, said Dallas Area Interfaith— a coalition of Dallas religious congregations, schools and nonprofits — has been her main source of information since the COVID-19 pandemic began because “it’s the most accessible,” Cruz said.
“Our only source of information has been through DAI and through the people in our community,” Cruz said.
"We have to be informed because we are the most vulnerable," [Maria] Ramirez explains.
The information Ramirez has gotten throughout the pandemic has mostly been through her own efforts seeking it out and through the community groups she was already involved with. Ramirez's church sends out information to congregants, as does The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a local nonprofit of which she is a member.
[Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar, Texas Tribune]
Longtime local resident Maria works in housekeeping and lives in a shared mobile home in El Jebel. She said she’s worried about paying her $300-a-month rent this summer....“My life is very simple,” Maria said. “I work, work, work, and now with the quarantine we can't even work, so financially, coronavirus has really affected me.” ....She recently received $950 in financial support from local nonprofit MANAUS. “Thank God right now I have enough to get by,” she said. “It just comes down to me having to really stretch that… this month I do have the money to pay the rent, but I don't have it for July or August."
On Thursday.... Mountain Voices Project ... propose[d] the “Landlord/Tenant Housing Recovery Plan” [with] over 160 local leaders in attendance, including representatives from nonprofits, schools and faith-based institutions as well as several Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield county commissioners.
The housing recovery plan involves creating a fund backed by local governments and private donors to support both landlords and tenants. The meeting last Thursday was the first step in getting local institutions, philanthropists and counties to consider coming together and working towards a common goal. Those in attendance were encouraged to take the proposal back to their respective organizations ahead of the next meeting, which is scheduled for later this month.
[Photo Credit: Eleanor Bennett, Aspen Public Radio]
Local Organizations Take Steps To Prevent A ‘Tsunami Of Evictions’ This Summer, Aspen Public Radio [pdf]
In mid-April, Governor Gavin Newsom allocated $75 million in emergency assistance to undocumented immigrants impacted by the pandemic. Philanthropic organizations and private donors pledged an additional $50 million.
But, undocumented immigrants still don’t qualify for the federal stimulus checks and can’t apply for unemployment insurance. They are also barred from the state’s tax credit program for low-income workers.
“Governor Newsom has come out many times to talk about the value of the immigrant community, a recognition that the undocumented are part of California and deserve to be part of the California dream. And this... this is contradictory to leaving people out of that tax break,” said McManus....
Immigrant advocates say they’re not giving up, especially now.
“At the same time that we can see the disparity right now. We also can see how much we benefit from them,” said Maria Elena Manzo, a COPA leader.
COPA’s Tim McManus says this fight is about recognition through policy, and putting money in people’s pockets.
“So forgetting about what you think about fairness or justice or morality, this is an economic stimulus. We're gonna recover stronger if all of California can land back on their feet sooner,” he said.
The Fight to Short Up The Safety Net for Undocumented Workers, KAZU [pdf]
On a balmy day at the St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church in East Dallas, parishioners working with the nonprofit Dallas Area Interfaith talked among themselves about problems they faced as they passed out food to a long line of needy people.
Rosa Garcia said she was already helping family cope with the deaths of two family members in Dallas when her husband found out two more relatives had died in Florida. “For immigrants, it is harder. We have to struggle three times harder,” Garcia said.
Nearby, a small woman named Cecilia with a white face mask set below bloodshot eyes took a break. She said she didn’t sleep much because rats and bugs have infested her apartment, and she must be on guard that they don’t bite her children at night.
Cecilia lives on a janitor’s wages. She asked that her surname not be published because she is undocumented and fears she’d lose her job. She can’t pay her rent and the landlord says it will be an extra $300 if she wants to change apartments....
[Photo Credit: Ben Torres, Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News]
On The Front Lines, Latinos Fight The Coronavirus, Poverty And Vulnerability As Contagion Rages Through Texas, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
"Rev. David Lee Sincere Jr. with Fort Bend Transformation Church, Advocacy Now Institute and The Metropolitan Organization was one of several county residents and officials who spoke at Commissioners Court about the need for rental, mortgage and utility assistance. He said he has received a number of phone calls, emails and stories from residents who require help."
[Photo Credit: Screenshot via Fort Bend County]
City Mayors, Economic Development President, Fort Bend ISD Divided Over Division Of Federal COVID-19 Fund, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Fort Bend County OKs Budget For Distributing $134M CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
George Joins Others In Asking State To Extend Eviction Moratorium, Fort Bend Herald [pdf]
Fort Bend County Announces List Of CARES Act Funds Distribution Advisory Committee Members, Community Impact [pdf]
Fort Bend County To Host Workshop On Distributing $134M In CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
Fort Bend County Launches $19.5M Rental Assistance Program June 1, Community Impact [pdf]
...workers who labor shoulder to shoulder at the plant and others fear the contagion has spread to more people in the Dallas area. Sick workers who do not get themselves tested could spread the virus when they are out and about or when they return to the plant.
“The workers at these plants are essential workers, especially now,” said auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Catholic Diocese. “They help keep the food supply chain intact for all of us… They are particularly vulnerable because of the kind of work that they do and in greater need of protection at this time. Just as the state has done elsewhere in Texas, they should require testing of their employees for the safety of all."
Josephine Lopez-Paul, an organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, said she is organizing a plan to assist those families. “It’s in our collective interest to protect these workers,” Lopez-Paul said. “The state also has a responsibility to these workers.”
[Photo Credit: Ryan Michalesko, Dallas Morning News]
Experts, Activists Want Virus Testing at Meat-Processing Plants to Prevent Community Spread, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Seven [commissioners], plus the one Mayor Turner spoke to, said they plan to postpone eviction hearings until June. That’s great news to Mesias Pedroza, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), who today was helping to pack meals for families with meals.
“Just right now we’re preparing for service giving food supplies to families and they come and say ‘hey we need help with rent. We can not pay for rent. We don’t have a job. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?” Pedroza said.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,286 evictions pending in Harris County. Since March 18, 1,591 have been filed, according to data collected by January Advisers.
On Tuesday, TMO sent a letter to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo asking her to extend the moratorium on evictions which expired May 19. Judge Hidalgo has said that’s not in her power but she and county commissioners have allocated $30 million to help struggling families with relief.
“At TMO we believe they have the legal basis to do so because other counties have done so,” Pedroza countered. “There is ample discretion because the Texas Supreme Court they have said eviction orders may resume it doesn’t say that it shall resume.
[Photo Credit: KPRC Click 2 Houston]
Houston Mayor’s Tweet Sparks Optimism to Families Facing Evictions, Click 2 Houston [pdf]
Editorial: What Houston Must Do To Avoid Eviction Disaster, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
The Legislature made great progress in 2018 and 2019 in reforming Iowa’s systems of mental health care for children and adults. When fully implemented, Iowa’s children and their families, indeed all Iowans, will greatly benefit from their fine work. With that solid start, the necessary next step is providing adequate, predictable, sustainable funding for the new system. We understand COVID-19 has impacted Iowa’s budget, however mental health services for adults and children have become even more critical. In crafting Iowa’s next state budget, we ask legislators to consider:
Maintaining current funding amounts for adults and increasing funding for children’s mental health crisis services to include a statewide hotline, provide for local mobile crisis services for children, and to provide crisis observation centers specifically for children;
Lifting restrictions to enable dollar shifts in any region that has had insufficient funds to pay for adult and children’s mental health prior to COVID-19 and now faces cutting services;
Extending broadband so all people in Iowa can receive telemedicine services which includes mental health services;
Extending the cutoff for telemedicine and the reimbursement rate. Mental health concerns (including COVID related) will not end when confinements end but will continue post COVID physical health concerns;
Ensuring telemedicine reimbursement rates for mental health are mandatory for ALL insurers.
[Photo courtesy of AMOS]
Lawmakers, Please Don't Lose Momentum on Mental Health, Iowa Capital Dispatch [pdf]
HOUSTON — The $15 million meant to help Houstonians pay rent is already gone. The money dried up in less than 90 minutes....
The Metropolitan Organization was hosting two application clinics this morning to help families without internet access apply. Large crowds waited in line starting at 5 a.m. Because of the issues with the site many families weren't able to apply before it was shut down.
"They designed a system to give away $15 million quickly and yes it was a success they gave away $15 million, but did it get to the people with the greatest need, I question that," said Joe Higgs, Executive Director of TMO.
As many as 30,000 tried to access the website, an indication of the need for rent relief in the wake of COVID-19, which has led to business shutdowns and skyrocketing unemployment. Housing advocates have said the money does not go far enough in helping renters.
Houston's $15 Million Rental Assistance Program Fills Up In 90 Minutes, Houston Chronicle
All Funds For Houston Rental Assistance Are Already Gone And Site Is Now Closed, KHOU 11 [pdf]
$15 Million In Rent Relief Claimed In Less Than 2 Hours, As Tenant Demand Creates Lag In Response, Houston Public Media [pdf]
Houston's $15 Million In Rent Assistance Runs Out In Just Two Hours, Click To Houston [pdf]
On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County one day prior, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called on the City of Austin to provide at least $40 Milllion in rental assistance for economically distressed families in the COVID-19 crisis.
Leaders noted that while at present, the City of Austin invests $1.2 million for rental assistance, and $7 million overall toward housing assistance, over 50% of low income Austin residents are considered “cost-burdened” (ie. pay over 30% of their income toward housing costs) and 93% of Very Low Income Austin residents are “distressed renters”.
Parish leaders from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic in East Austin argue that “even though evictions have been halted, rent and late fees are piling up, and many residents are receiving warnings from landlords to pay up. Austin did well by creating the RISE fund and some rental assistance programs, but we can, and must do more.”
Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to Renters, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Advocates Call on Austin to Provide $40M for Renters, KXAN [video] [pdf]
Austin Allocating Far Less in Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis Compared to Other Texas Cities, KVUE (Pre-conference) [video] [pdf]
Austin Nonprofit Seeks Assistance for Renters, KVUE [video] [pdf]
Organización Pide se Asignen Más Fondos de Alquiler Para Familias de Austin, Univisión [video] [pdf]
Organización Pide a Comisionados del Condado Travis que Aprueben Fondos de Asistencia para el Alquiler de las Familias Afectadas por el Coronavirus, Univisión [video] [pdf]
Travis County Approves $10M for Direct Rental and Mortgage Assistance, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance Program, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Headlines / Quote of the Week Austin Chronicle [pdf]
Austin Top News - May 14, 2020 KLBJ [pdf]