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.
After more than 1,200 leaders gathered online, signed petitions and pressed upon state legislators the importance of expanding access to state Earned Income Tax Credit benefits to undocumented taxpayers, California IAF leaders declared a victory for essential workers.
“We commend Governor Newsom and state legislators for investing in families, especially during a deficit year,” said Rabbi Susan Leider with Congregation Kol Shofar, Marin Organizing Committee. “We know they have faced enormous pressure to cut back, and instead they have paid in. This tax credit is not just a one time handout, but will help families year after year. Our leaders have been working for months to make sure our essential workers aren’t left behind, and this is a huge step forward.”
While not a full expansion to all undocumented workers, the tax credit will help tens of thousands of families with at least one child under the age of six who pay their taxes using an ITIN. Some households may receive up to $2,600 each year, depending on their income and family size, a significant investment in some of the most vulnerable families impacted by the pandemic.
Allies also celebrated the victory, including Senator Maria Elena Durazo: “Under the states’ current economic situation, we are happy to be able to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit program for ITIN filing California families.... Thank you to the California IAF members for continuing to push for this inclusion, which United Way sees as a fundamental tool to move families out of poverty. With your continued advocacy, California will move out of this global pandemic, a more united and inclusive state.”
Faith, Community Leaders Praise Tax Break for Undocumented Workers Included in State Budget, The Pajaronian
California IAF Declares a Victory for Essential Workers, California IAF
No Relief Here, Voices of Monterey Bay
The Fight to Shore Up The Safety Net for Undocumented Workers, KAZU [pdf]
Immigrant Workers Face Economic Uncertainty During Covid-19 Shutdown, America Magazine [pdf]
Lideres Religiosos Piden Mas Apoyo Para la Comunidad Inmigrante, Telemundo Bay Area [pdf] [VIDEO]
[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]
Travis County Continues Tesla Deliberations With No Date Set for Vote on Economic Incentives, Community Impact [pdf]
County Development Incentive for Tesla Sees More Support, Austin Monitor [pdf]
As COVID-19 cases in North Texas rise again, Dallas Area Interfaith leaders and Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly fight for relief for undocumented immigrants.
Says Bishop Kelly: "They don't have any access to any kind of support -- any kind of stimulus support -- and so they have to work..."
Recovered Covid-19 Patient Lives with Survivor's Guilt, CNN
The most important part of this COVID-19 pandemic has been making sure our local hospitals have enough bed space for anyone who comes in.
Well, Spokane Alliance, a non-profit organization, is helping that by assisting people who test positive for COVID-19 before they need emergency care. To top it off, their work is all done over the phone and it is free thanks to funding from the Innovia Foundation and Washington State University.
When a person in Spokane County tests positive, they can opt-in to Spokane Alliance’s program.
If they do, they’ll be paired with a trained volunteer who calls them every day for about two weeks.
“It’s basically just a way to connect people in the community, and work towards alleviating the pressures and stress that covid has brought to our community,” Community Organizer Chloe Sciammas said.
They’ll make sure the infected person has everything they need while self-isolating, connecting them to food, housing and medical resources with help from county officials.
Many COVID-19 patients who need hospital care are there for oxygen support. That’s why each patient in the program gets a “pulse oximeter”, which tracks their oxygen levels as if they were in the hospital.
“We can do that for someone at home when we call them everyday, so when someone says ‘oh it’s 85’, then we know they need to get medical care,” Clinical Professor Dr. Luis Manriquez said.
[Photo credit: footage from KXLY]
Spokane Alliance Eases Stress on Hospitals, Community with COVID-19 Volunteer Effort, KXLY [pdf]
'Working During the Pandemic Has Been Beyond Stressful', Governor Inslee Met With Frontline Workers During Spokane Visit, KREM2 [pdf]
News and Updates on the Covid-19 Pandemic in Washington State, KUOW [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.
The council passed a resolution calling for Gov. Kevin Stitt to temporarily block residential evictions unless a landlord is responding to a tenant’s criminal behavior or dangerous activities.
“We’re really just asking the governor to pay attention to Oklahomans who are really struggling right now” as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, said City Councilor Lori Decter Wright, one of the sponsors of the resolution.
The push for a statewide eviction moratorium started with a Tulsa religious coalition known as ACTION and a similar group called VOICE-OKC in Oklahoma City, where the City Council has said it will vote on a similar resolution.
In effect until July 25, a federal moratorium already applies to rental properties that have federally backed mortgages, but the Tulsa City Council wants the same protection for tenants in all rental properties.
Landlords would benefit, as well, said Councilor Kara Joy McKee, explaining that tenants would ultimately still have to pay their rents in full but would have more time to seek employment or government assistance.
“Our tenants and landlords need this support at this time,” McKee said.
[Photo credit: Joey Johnson, Tulsa World]
Tulsa City Council Asks Gov. Stitt To put Most Evictions In State On Hold, Tulsa World
Eleven Southeast Texas Faith Leaders from Jefferson County signed a letter on May 19, 2020 and sent it to Governor Abbott, Jefferson County Commissioners Court, Beaumont City Council and Port Author City Council, asking the Cities and County to create a coronavirus relief fund at their level of government to address COVID-19 housing concerns and to advocate for funding an behalf of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
In response to this, and public testimony by key religious leadership, the City of Beaumont designated $1.2 Million towards pandemic relief.
[Photo credit: Fran Ruchalski, Beaumont Enterprise]
...Edgar Cage threw up his hands.
“I feel like David but they’ve reduced the size of my stone to a grain of sand,” Cage said after leaving a Louisiana House committee hearing considering one of many bills that favor business but remove revenues from local governments.
Seventy-nine opponents had emailed their testimony because they couldn’t come to the State Capitol during the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than reading the emails aloud, as Cage wanted, the missives were attached en masse “in the official” record. Less than a minute later the committee voted.
Make no mistake, Cage knows the score when facing the Goliath of business and energy special interests. And he doesn’t fool himself into thinking that most in the Republican-dominated Legislature would vote against business interests. But, legislators in the session that ends June 1 have had little opportunity to hear the other side.
“If those people (email senders) were here, they would have to been allowed to testify and (committee members) would have had to listen,” said Cage, of Together Louisiana. “My big problem is that this is supposed to be a democratic process.”
The pandemic caused by an airborne virus that often causes death necessarily requires keeping people apart during a gathering that usually decides policies up close and personal in crowded halls and hearing rooms. That social distancing has come at the cost of creating an echo chamber where legislators’ preconceived notions are reinforced by lobbyists and partisans. That isolation is what is fueling so much legislation that expand tax breaks, Cage said....
[Photo Credit: Bill Feig, The Advocate]
TMO is among the coalition of nonprofits that have approached the city and county to urge the equitable distribution of those funds.
“We asked City Council to commit $100 million of the $404 million in the Coronavirus Relief Fund to rental assistance. But the next day, they committed $15 million that was distributed online in a matter of minutes to about 12,000 families,” Higgs said.
“A survey shows of the 700,000 rental units in the area, up to 85,000 cannot pay rent at this time. A huge number of the people are service workers, men and women of color, hourly workers who lost their jobs with little if any savings. The need is so immense,” he said.
With any moratoriums on evictions ending, justices of the peace may resume processing eviction notices by mid-June and constables will start showing up at apartments, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense to evict someone who has paid regularly but is not able to currently pay during this crisis. Plus, when someone in uniform shows up to evict, it’s scary as heck, especially for those who may be undocumented,” Higgs said.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church]
Facing Eviction, Single Mothers With Kids Hit Hardest By Need For Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]