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.
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]
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]
Leaders with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a coalition of churches and organizations that work to help low-income, local communities, are calling on Justices of the Peace to halt evictions and for renters to take action to prevent losing their homes.
Beginning Friday, a new evictions moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes place. The rare order prohibits landlords from evicting any tenants through the end of the year but does not relieve renters of having to pay their rent and other fees in the future.
TMO leaders said during a Friday press conference while the CDC's sweeping moratorium is a step in the right direction, it's not enough.
“The CDC order creates a welcome pause in evictions in this area but 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” Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, a leader with TMO, said in a news release.
“COVID-19 is not going anywhere, and it is time for Congress to return to negotiations to pass the next stimulus bill, including $100 Billion in rental assistance,” TMO Leader Rev. Scott Cooper said in the release.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Physicians]
Houston Coronavirus Updates: What You Need To Know For September 4th, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Due to the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, leaders from the West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS) decided to start a program to support mental health.
WTOS asked a variety of members within the Lubbock community how Covid-19 had impacted their family, and the most common answer was mental health. As a result, the grant came from the city’s Covid-19 relief funds.
Catholic Charities has collaborated with WTOS to help bring awareness to the program.
“Catholic Charities has actually been called in to administer the program. So, it’s just been really great to have that approved and ready to go,” said Catholic Charities Executive Director Cynthia Quintanilla. “And we’re just excited about being able to provide the services.”
The program will kick-off Tuesday, September 15, and those interested in signing up for the session can get more information by visiting the Catholic Charities website.
Catholic Charities Receives Grant for New Mental Health Program, Everything Lubbock [pdf]
About five years ago, COPS/Metro sought and won “living wage” minimum pay for City workers, resulting in raises for about 20 percent of the civilian workforce. They won similar measures from Bexar County, and some school districts followed suit.
Now two measures on the Nov. 3 ballot offer San Antonians the opportunity to again help lower-rung workers. Both involve a one-eighth-cent sales tax that for 20 years has provided funding to buy development rights to protect sensitive lands over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
The first ballot measure would transfer those funds to provide about $154 million over the next four years for a job training program projected to boost the incomes of up to 40,000 workers. That’s an aggressive goal, but what gives it credibility is that its approach is based on Project Quest, a jobs training program designed by COPS/Metro 28 years ago.
Interestingly, it was COPS/Metro and their sister organizations around the state that persuaded the Legislature back in 2001 to authorize local governments to spend money on job training and early childhood education. That same law, the Texas Better Jobs Act, permitted San Antonio voters to approve Pre-K 4 SA in November 2012. The highly successful preschool program is up for renewal on the ballot.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, San Antonio Report]
Election Day Ballot Will Let You Celebrate Labor Day on November 3rd, San Antonio Report [pdf]
A late-July spike in Pima County COVID-19 cases shown on the Arizona Department of Health COVID-19 webpage shows ... 642 cases, the highest number of cases by far that month.
On July 2, Barbara Hudson died in the San Carlos Unit in Perryville Women’s Prison in Goodyear. Before her death, she sought medical care for shortness of breath and chest pain, said Kim Crecca, convenor of the Diocesan Prison Ministry, who has volunteered at Perryville and communicates often with prisoners.
Crecca is part of the Arizona Interfaith Network, a group of faith-based leaders across the state that organizes people for social and economic improvement.
“We feel that her death is a rallying cry, not only to help with the release of inmates as possible but also about the underlying conditions there that make them really vulnerable to the virus,” Crecca said.
“It was alarming very early on in our conversations with the state about how they were not addressing the asymptomatic nature of the virus,” said Joe Rubio, lead organizer of the Arizona Interfaith Network.
The faith groups started meeting with Department of Corrections Director David Shinn in April and less often with Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Services director, to discuss what the state could do to better protect inmates from the virus.
“No one who is incarcerated should have a death sentence by virus, but particularly those who are incarcerated for low-level offenses,” [Episcopal Bishop Jennifer] Reddall said. “They should not be put in a place where they’re going to die because of some infraction."
[Photo Credit: ]
Tucson Prison Inmates Say Close Conditions, Slow Test Results Spread COVID-19, Arizona Daily Star [pdf]
At the urging of AMOS leaders, Governor Reynolds is investing $5 million for job training paired with wrap-around services from CARES Act funds.
After hearing stories from Iowans facing the stress of unemployment amidst a shifting economic environment, AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) began researching how to help workers get back to work in living wage jobs.
"Losing a job is a trauma for workers and their families," said AMOS leader Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bell Jr. "We know that workers need not only training to be able to access higher-wage work, but also support for that trauma, childcare access and assistance to help them complete a training program and be ready to re-enter the workforce."
Since May, AMOS leaders had been meeting with business, government, and community stakeholders to formulate a job training proposal to address the coronavirus crisis. In July, 100 AMOS leaders convened a Workforce Summit calling on Governor Reynolds to invest in intensively supported job training which was built on a model pioneered by the West / Southwest IAF. This initiative will ensure workers have the training and support they need to get back to work, strengthening their families and better able to support the communities they live in.
Governor Reynolds Heeds AMOS' Call to Invest in Iowa's Workforce, AMOS [pdf]
On June 16, Common Ground held a civic academy with over 80 leaders, who learned together about strategies to strengthen testing, tracing, and supportive isolation efforts to contain COVID-19. In the research leading up to their academy, they learned that the county would receive $46.5 million in CARES Act funding throughout the state.
When leaders approached county officials about how these funds would be spent, they were met with surprise — no one seemed to know about the funds.
Common Ground leaders immediately initiated meetings with state legislators, county supervisors, and other officials. They organized house meetings and developed a budget of investments needed to support the needs of Solano county families and workers — including funding for TTSI as well as funds for rental assistance and a promotores outreach program to Spanish-speaking families.
When the budget passed, thanks to the urging of Common Ground leaders, it included double the original proposed amount for rental assistance.
A family in the San Luis Valley has made an X in masking tape on the kitchen counter. It’s the only place a remote hotspot works so the children can access remote school lessons. A mother who runs a hair salon in Commerce City brings her daughter to work with her. It’s the only place she can access online learning using her mother’s hotspot. But it means the mother has problems running credit cards at the same time. A third of students in the South Routt School district south of Steamboat Springs don’t have internet access. Teachers, parents and school superintendents told these stories during the Internet Access Summit Wednesday calling for affordable and universal internet, faster download and upload speeds and higher data caps, and training to ensure families can access quality connections.
The virtual summit, sponsored by Coloradans for the Common Good, a coalition of education, labor and faith-based groups, included teachers, school officials, elected officials, and representatives of internet service providers Comcast, Verizon and T-Mobile. “It’s frustrating,” said Toby Melster, superintendent of the Centennial School District in San Luis, Colorado. He estimates about 30 percent of his students are falling behind simply because they don’t have a high-quality internet connection. He said companies have donated some hotspots but because there are multiple people in a family who need to go online, “they’ve got to make a decision about who gets access to the hotspot...”
As Colorado Schools Reopen, Thousands of Students Still Don't Have Reliable Internet, Colorado Public Radio [pdf]