With the coronavirus transforming the way religious congregations operate all over Texas, Central Texas Interfaith has been at the forefront of efforts in Waco and McLennan County to bring together congregational leaders and help them navigate Stay-at-Home orders.
Town Hall Held with Faith Leaders, CBS-KWTX
Clergy from across the state are urging Gov. Kevin Stitt to designate these grocery workers as first responders, hoping that this recognition will help them in more ways than one during the COVID-19 crisis.
"They are literally risking their lives to be with the public every day, ensuring that families across Oklahoma can have access to the food they need in order to survive," the Rev. Diana Davies wrote in a recent letter emailed to Stitt.
Davies, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, wrote on behalf of 40 Oklahoma clergy and religious sisters affiliated with Voices Organized in Civic Engagement. The group, also known as VOICE, is a coalition of more than two dozen metro-area congregations and nonprofits.
In her letter, Davies said giving grocery workers the first responders' designation would recognize the workers for the "vital role" they are playing in the current emergency but also help draw down federal funds that would keep more money circulating in Oklahoma.
She said the federal dollars could be used for childcare for grocery workers' families, medical testing for the coronavirus should they need it, treatment for COVID-19 if necessary and greater access to personal protective equipment.
"Our organization represents thousands of families across Oklahoma, and many of our loved ones are working tirelessly in stores to keep our supply chains functioning," she wrote. "We would love to tell them that our governor honors their courage and their service at this time."
[Photo Credit: Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman]
WTOS & Llano Estacado Alliance for Democracy (LEAD) clergy and leaders succeeded in getting City of Lubbock Utilities to halt robocalls to residents. The automated calls were causing "fear and anxiety that utilities would be shut off," even after the emergency declaration was put into place.
“As a pastoral leader in Lubbock I want to recognize the City of Lubbock Utilities for listening and assisting to reduce the fear and panic especially among some of our city’s most vulnerable people, a segment of our population very much in need of compassion in the current difficult circumstances,” said The Most Reverend Bishop Robert Coerver of the Catholic Diocese of Lubbock.
Rev. Becky Fox, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church added, “We look forward to future opportunities to work together with City of Lubbock Utilities to continue to find ways to better serve our community.”
[Photo Credit: AP Graphics]
City of Lubbock Utility Robocalls to Stop, KCBD News
After 100 clergy from Valley Interfaith Project and other congregations across the state called on the Governor to issue a Stay-at-Home order in Arizona, the governor responded with an urging to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected.” However, within hours, clergy pointed out that:
"the order still loosely defines essential businesses as golf courses, nail salons and gun shops. These employees would have to continue reporting to work, catering to non-essential needs, at great risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others. That’s in no one’s interest....
We know how to revive an economy, but not a lost human life....
So, we, as clergy leaders of Valley Interfaith Project, ask our state leaders to reassess what we deem absolutely essential and to protect us all. There’s still time for improvements to this order that would diminish the spread of this epidemic.
Within days, the Governor narrowed the definition of what would be considered "essential" and VIP leaders turned their attention to the public, urging communities to comply.
[Photo Credit: Cliff Hawkins, Getty Images via Arizona Mirror]
COVID-19 Demands That We All Make Sacrifices for the Common Welfare, Arizona Mirror [pdf]
Ducey Orders Arizonians to Stay Home Except for 'Essential Activities' Due to Coronavirus, Arizona Daily Star [pdf]
While health and government officials work to manage the outbreak, families are struggling to pay bills and buy groceries.
Josephine Lopez Paul, the lead organizer for the Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of nonprofits and religious organizations that advocates for low-income families, said local, state and federal policymakers need to spend this month thinking about how to reshape the economy.
Lopez Paul said she hopes officials find a way to mitigate debt families may build as they continue to stay unable to work.
“This is going to be a depression,” she said. “This is the fastest economic decline we’ve seen in modern history. We’re not going to flip a switch one day and everyone go back to work. Some folks are never going to be able to recover from this.”
[Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Dallas Morning News]
April Will Be a Make-or-Break Month for North Texas in Coronavirus Fight, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
“Many people find themselves in a very unique situation, where the families affected most by this are either on front lines, in the grocery stores or health services, while others are living paycheck to paycheck, and now they don’t have that,” Niebla said in a video interview Tuesday along with other leaders of the Mountain Voices Project, a program of Manaus.
“What we’re hearing loud and clear right now is that folks who should be paying their rent in the next few days are not only very concerned about this month but are thinking ahead a month or two, and what that will bring,” [organizer Alice] Steindler said.
The attorney general and the governor have made “some good, thoughtful recommendations,” she said, but renters and landlords alike could use some assurance that they’re part of the equation.
“We’re not looking to put all of this responsibility on landlords,” Steindler said. “We understand that people being able to have that rental income is important, but we need some decisions sooner than later.”
Father Bert Chilson of St. Stephen Catholic Parish in Glenwood Springs also works with MVP as a community organizer. He said he has already heard of at least one instance where a property manager in Garfield County issued formal notice to tenants advising that rent will be expected to be paid on time this month.
“This is a time of great fear,” he said. “The stress is real for everyone, and for our immigrant population, it’s that stress level times 10.
“Right now, we have an order to stay at home, but if we start to see threats to remove people from their homes, how are we going to keep people safe?”
Alba Garcia, 51, has a decision to make. Does she pay rent Wednesday or does she buy food for her 7-year-old daughter?
“Maybe I should try and pay my rent because I can’t bear for me and my daughter to be on the streets. I can beg for food but I can’t lose my apartment," she said in Spanish. Joe Higgs, an organizer for The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) acted as a translator. TMO works with Holy Ghost Catholic Church where Garcia is a member.
The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) — which is a coalition of organizations and religious institutions — is working with Garcia’s and Hernandez’s church to help them and others in dire situations. Their two big focuses during the coronavirus crisis are ensuring the poorest and most vulnerable people in the Houston area have food security and don’t lose housing.
“As Rev. John Ogletree of First Metropolitan Church and TMO said at a TMO virtual press conference on Wednesday, March 18, ‘hourly and part-time workers like waiters, cleaning crews, bartenders, dishwashers and others are losing their income and this is forcing them to decide whether to buy food, pay utility bills or pay rent,'” the group wrote in a press release.
Among their demands from local lawmakers, TMO is asking that Gov. Greg Abbott place a moratorium on evictions.
[Photo Credit: Click2Houston.com]
After the Covid-19 pandemic precipitated an economic crisis of historic proportions, the Industrial Areas Foundation launched a campaign calling on Congress to provide direct monthly aid for the duration of the crisis to American workers -- regardless of their citizenship.
While the recently passed $2.2 Trillion emergency stimulus will provide adults a one-time $1,200 check, it is set to leave out undocumented immigrants -- including those who pay taxes using a Tax Identification Number. IAF organizations across the West / Southwest IAF working with immigrant communities lay out the implications of this decision below:
Health care is a concern to both undocumented immigrants and legal residents.... Last August, the Trump administration tightened restrictions on legal immigrants who receive government benefits, referred to as 'public charges.' The new policy denies green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits.
Immigrants in the Dallas area mask their symptoms so they can continue to work, according to Josephine López Paul, lead organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith.
“We’ve seen our service industries obliterated,” said Ms. López Paul. “Immigrants are being hit the hardest right now and there’s no safety net for them.”
When undocumented immigrants do approach hospitals, they quickly turn away if they see any law enforcement present, according to Ana Chavarin, lead organizer of Pima County Interfaith in Tucson, Ariz. Families are less afraid of the virus itself and more concerned with how they would pay for a long-term hospital visit, she said.
Ms. Chavarin has met with families who, not knowing how long the pandemic will last or when they will find work again, have begun rationing food. “Because they are undocumented, they cannot apply for any kind of help,” she said. Some have U.S. citizen children and could apply for benefits on their behalf, she said. But fear of deportation keeps many from doing so.
Food is the number one concern for pastors in Houston, according to Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer for The Metropolitan Organization. Some parishes and congregations have started to purchase gift cards for food while others are collecting items for the church pantry. Local chapters of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are gathering items, but since they often count on elderly volunteers, it has been a challenge.
Children cut off from school presents another challenge for low-income families. “The kids being home, [families] don’t always have the technology they need to keep up with school,” Ms. Valdez said.
“There has to be a way to get the money into the hands of service workers,” said Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a community organizing network. Pastors are seeing an increase in domestic violence, he said, likely stemming from frustration, economic pressure and children being home from school. Studies have found that immigrant survivors of domestic violence are unlikely to report abuse to law enforcement. Isolation and behavioral health issues have the potential to lead to an increase in suicide rates, he said.
“This could profoundly change the nature of parishes and congregations,” Mr. Rubio said, referring not only to the economic impact of the coronavirus but also how communities respond to those in need during the crisis. “We have to think about how we compensate those making the biggest sacrifices and how we ramp up the economy once it’s over.”
[Photo Credit: John Locher, AP Photo]
Coloradans for the Common Good Leverages Grocery Worker Win: Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Childcare
At the urging of Coloradans for the Common Good and the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), Governor Jared Polis expanded the consideration of "essential workers" to include food and grocery store workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. The protections include emergency paid leave and child care, and will benefit 20,000 grocery store and commercial food processing workers across the state.
In a meeting with the Governor, faith and labor leaders successfully made the case that grocery store workers are essential and should be eligible for supports then-available only to front-line medical workers.
[Photo Credit: Mykal McEldowney / IndyStar]
Parish identification cards, an IAF immigration strategy developed in collaboration with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, are now accepted at Dallas County Covid-19 mobile testing units.
[Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Dallas Morning News]