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Arizona Interfaith Proves Vital in Petition Drive Against Lowest Flat Tax in Nation

[Excerpt]

Education advocacy groups on Tuesday filed hundreds of thousands of signatures to block Gov. Doug Ducey’s sweeping income tax cuts, the largest in state history, from going into effect and forcing a public vote on them. 

For that to actually happen, at least 118,823 of the 215,787 signatures the Invest in Arizona coalition submitted on one of the measures must be deemed valid by elections officials. If they are, Arizona voters will decide the fate of the tax cuts in November 2022.

....

[The flat tax] ..."is an affront to the voters of the state, an insult to our teachers, and it’s a direct attack on people that all of us people of faith are instructed to protect: children, the vulnerable, those who live in the margins and have suffered the most in the pandemic,” said Rev. Jeff Procter-Murphy, a member of the Valley Interfaith Project.

Procter-Murphy highlighted one of the points the Invest in Arizona coalition has made since the launch of its referendum campaigns in July: The planned tax cuts won’t just affect education, but the overall state budget. 

The utter lack of political will to invest in future generations has to stop,” 

he said.  “We see how this rushed tax code will handcuff our state in coming budget cycles, we see how it shortchanges our most vulnerable families for generations to come. We see how these expanded tax cuts will cripple our state government beyond education, health and human services and public safety will also be impacted affecting everyone. Today we are standing up for those whom our elected officials have refused to defend: the poor, the vulnerable, and our children.”

Behind him, white boxes were stacked, some with a red sticker on it with a message in white letters: “The people of Arizona gave Senate Bill 1828 an F.” Next to him were school-aged children holding white poster boards with different messages on them. Some read, “Governor, your handout to the wealthy is in time-out!” “$1 Billion to the wealthy at the expense of my classroom? Not today Governor!” and “Invest in AZ now.”

[Photo Credit: Laura Gómez, Arizona Mirror]

School Advocates Turn in Petitions to Overturn Arizona's $1 Billion Tax CutArizona Republic [pdf]

Foes of Massive Arizona Tax Cuts File to Block ThemAssociated Press [pdf]

Education Advocates File Signatures to Force Vote on Ducey’s Tax Cuts in 2022Arizona Mirror [pdf]

Petitions Turned in, Apparently Will Force Public Vote on Arizona Tax CutArizona Daily Star [pdf]

Tax Cut Likely to Go to Voters, AZ Capitol Times

 

 


Valley Interfaith Project Fights Wage Theft in Arizona

[Excerpt]

Fighting wage theft on the community and parish level can be especially effective.

A big part of building any coalition is talking directly to people about their problems and really listening to them, said Jason Lowry, an organizer with the Valley Interfaith Project based in Phoenix.

"Once you figure out what the stories are, there are all kinds of ways you can pull together people who are willing to take action on it. It needs to be truly a grassroots effort."

Such actions also help congregations rethink their role locally, he says, and allow them to "reclaim turf."

Monica Dorcey, who has been a leader with Valley Interfaith Project for 15 years, recently worked with a network of churches in Phoenix to get more low-income people vaccinated.

In general, the basic tool for reaching people, according to Dorcey, is a neighborhood walk, going door-to-door, passing out flyers, setting up house meetings. "Even the ice cream lady who goes all over the neighborhood is involved. It creates a buzz in the neighborhood" as well as generating positive publicity, she said.

"If you don't rush through it, you can have a real conversation not just about what you're interested in, but about what else is going on. You can have opportunities for people to say what's on their mind," she said.

In the case of a topic like wage theft, "it's not something people readily talk about. You have to put yourself in a position where they can open up about it," Dorcey said.

If someone has complaints about some type of wage theft, the goal would be first to help the person "share their story in a clear, concise way." Then, she suggested, a delegation of parish members might approach the individual's employer.

"Say 'We don't expect our people to be treated that way. We respectfully ask you to rectify this situation.' Make it clear that this is something we're working on and we're not going away," she said.

If that happens, she added, "Word would get around. The church might become known as a place to go" to redress injustices.

[Photo Credit: CNS / Reuters / Mike Blake]

On This Labor Day, Advocating for Just Wages Means Fighting Company TheftNational Catholic Reporter [pdf]


TMO Changes Minds about the Vaccine One Conversation at a Time in Jefferson Co.

[Excerpt]

The one-on-one approach to persuasion isn’t necessarily the most efficient, but it may be the most effective for the vaccine holdouts who have resisted every other large-scale push....

We know it can work because it already has.

One group out there doing the intensive, small-scale work to raise vaccination rates is the Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders Coalition, [an expansion project of TMO] based in Beaumont. Six team members told the editorial board last week that their community, like so many, is awash in vaccine conspiracies. Coordinator Mary Scott said the group has been going directly to apartment complexes with accurate vaccine information, and got approval from some Beaumont businesses to engage with customers about their vaccination drives. The grassroots team got 88 people vaccinated two weekends ago through churches and other centers....

Lamar University student [and TMO organizer] Ricky Mendoza said conversations with Hispanic community members revealed concerns about fertility and the vaccine, which numerous health experts have debunked. (And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a strong recommendation recently that pregnant women should get vaccinated.)

Mendoza said he’s finding that one-on-one conversations with people, in English and in Spanish, are slowly changing minds.

[Photo Credit: Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders]

Changing Minds on the Vaccine, One by OneHouston Chronicle [pdf]

Coalition Brings Vaccines to Beaumont Residents in At-Risk AreasBeaumont Enterprise [pdf]

Organizations Team Up in Beaumont to Spread Word About Importance of Getting Covid VaccineFOX News [pdf]

Putting Our Faith & Commitment to Democracy in ActionSoutheast Texas Faith & Community Leaders


TMO Brings 790+ Vaccines to Low-Income Neighborhoods in Harris Co.

In collaboration the Harris County Pubic Health Department and leaders from St. Leo the Great and Our Lady of Grace Catholic Churches, TMO brought over 790 vaccines to overlooked neighborhoods in unincorporated  and low-income areas of Harris County.  

In Aldine, within the county borders, this collaboration was particularly important for parishioners and neighbors of St. Leo the Great Catholic parish, where over 690 people received their first vaccine dose over the course of two events in August. 

In South Houston, leaders from Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church encouraged parishioners to get vaccinated through a combination of pulpit announcements, flyers and after-mass signups.  Said Sylvia Soria, church secretary of Our Lady of Grace:

Our parish membership is 99% Latino. Many of our families are working families that can not take time off during the week to get the vaccine across the other side of town.  We’re glad to work with TMO, GCLC, and Harris County Health Department to bring the COVID-19 vaccine on a Saturday to our community.

Jornada de Vacunación en Ciudad con Gran Población HispanaTelemundo [en español]


DAI Drives Vaccination Push Among Immigrant Catholics in Dallas

[Excerpt]

Dallas Area Interfaith has been working to help stop the spread of COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic. The group, which has members from all religious groups, particularly saw a need for vaccinations in immigrant congregations.

“They are already fearful, they have a fear of the government, our approach is that you reach people in the institution that they trust most, that is closest to them and their family and those are our congregations,” lead organizer Josephine Lopez Paul said.

DAI surveyed the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 and mapped out where their congregations were located. They found that the nine areas with high rates of infection in Dallas were within their congregations.

“The most need in our membership has been among Roman Catholics, especially those who are undocumented,” Paul said.

DAI so far has had vaccination events at four area churches where more than a thousand people total were vaccinated....

Parishioners of Holy Trinity and DAI took the initiative to set up the vaccination event on June 17, partnering with Baylor Scott & White Health and DAI. Baylor and the members canvassed the area prior to the event to sign people up.

Although vaccines are easy to find in Dallas, [parochial vicar Father Mike] Walsh knew that some of his parishioners would feel more comfortable getting vaccinated at church.

“We just know that immigrants especially will get vaccinated at church even though it’s very easy to find a free vaccine,” Walsh said. “They trust church.”

Many Faith Leaders in North Texas Embracing their Role in Vaccine PushDallas Morning News [pdf]


San Antonio Express-News Names COPS/Metro & Ernesto Cortes Jr. 'Visionaries Guided by Service'

[Excerpt]

Cities are transformed through the imaginations of people seeing what their communities can become. Cities are also transformed through the moral imaginations of people seeing clearly how their communities are in the present.

Visionaries peering into the future imagine expanded skylines, glittering downtowns, state-of-the-art stadiums, new businesses and the fusion of human capital and technologies, which earn cities the titles of “great,” “modern,” and “world-class.”

...

The Basin was essential and a springboard for the city’s economic growth, but it did nothing to protect the West Side from floods whose muddy waters, for decades, would continue to overflow ditches and rush through its neighborhoods, often claiming more lives. These floods and the lack of drainage they highlighted led to the 1974 founding of Communities Organized for Public Service (known as COPS) by the master community organizer Ernesto Cortes, a son of the West Side.

Believing in the natural leadership in neighborhoods and churches, the organization (now COPS/Metro ) was made up of more than two dozen parishes in which people, no matter their income or education, learned they could be sources of light to illuminate and find solutions to their problems.

Armed with passion, knowledge of the issues and a newly developed fearlessness in confronting city and corporate leaders, they discovered an ability to correct inequities such as bonds being approved for West Side drainage projects but never spent on those projects.

[Photo Credit: San Antonio Express News]

Visionaries Guided by ServiceSan Antonio Express News [pdf]


We Mourn Together: Bishop Douglas Miles

On the Passing of IAF Boardmember Bishop Douglas Miles
by Ernesto Cortes, Jr.

The passing of Bishop Miles is a great loss to all of us.  We shared the earth with him for far too short a time.

He modeled character and leadership, while at the same time teaching those who were marginalized how to be their own agents.  Of him it could be said that he invited all the challenges of Matthew 25: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, break free the captives and take in the stranger.  

He was a man of faith and a full human being.  He embodied Pope Francis’ notion of being a political person.  And he was our friend.
 


We Mourn Together: Bishop Douglas Miles

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Bishop Douglas Miles, IAF Co-Chair and BUILD Co-Chair Emeritus, passed away August 3, 2021 after complications from heart surgery. 

Bishop was a giant of a man, pastor, leader and friend. For more than 50 years, Bishop Douglas Miles (in photo from left, marching with Pastor Prentice at right) has been on the front-lines of every major social change in Baltimore and every major fight led by IAF. 

As longstanding Metro IAF and BUILD Leader Carol Reckling said, “It’s almost unfathomable to grasp Bishop’s reach. One way or another he impacted every one of us."

We were blessed with one of the greatest. We are all part of his legacy. We miss him dearly and are reminded of the words from God to the prophet that Bishop often closed out actions with, "Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us? And the voice of the prophet responded, 'Here am I, send me.’”

Let us continue to answer the call and fight the good fight. As we grieve his loss, may his incredible prophetic voice, brilliant wisdom, deep laughter, and shared memory guide us.

Please hold his dear wife Rose Miles, sons Pastor Dante and Harvey Miles, his entire family, Koinonia Baptist Church and BUILD in your prayers.

Bishop Douglas Miles, Who Advocated for Baltimore's Impoverished Residents and Co-Headed BUILD, DiesBaltimore Sun [pdf]


COPA Leaders Sound Alarm on 'Shadow Debt' as Rental Relief Lags

[Excerpt]

Over a year after losing their jobs to pandemic-related causes, Elizabeth remains unemployed, and her husband, a landscaper, is only able to get work once a week. Elizabeth says she knows that her family, theoretically, qualifies for the Covid-19 rent relief: they are below 80% of the Area Median Income and experienced financial hardships due to the pandemic.

But Elizabeth says she can’t afford to rely on theoretical assistance. With a family of five, including a 1 year-old, her primary concern is staying housed—even if it means cutting back on other essentials to pay rent.

“I have cut back on food, my internet, PG&E,” she says.

Elizabeth first heard about the Covid-19 rent relief program at a local food bank. It was there that she met a leader from Communities Organized for relational Power in Action (COPA), a faith-based nonprofit addressing issues like affordable housing. The COPA leader told her about the eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91—now updated as Assembly Bill 832....

The updated bill attempts to correct the gaps that excluded certain renters from the first round of applications. For instance, the new bill allows tenants with informal leases to qualify, requires either the tenant or the landlord to apply (the former bill required both parties to apply) and distributes $250,000 to Community Bridges to help facilitate in-person assistance and outreach —a critical component given the application must be submitted online.

COPA advocated for these changes and more, like 100% of back-rent forgiveness, up to three months of future rent, assistance with utility arrears and tenant records during the pandemic to be “masked,” or hidden, which are now included in the updated bill.

“Of course there’s still some obstacles, but I think what we have now is much better than what we saw initially,” says COPA organizer Mayra Bernabe.

But even though some obstacles were removed, their impact lingers, Bernabe says. “I know some of our families have mistrust for our government programs, because of the way they’ve been rolled out before,” she says.

[Photo: COPA leader Raymond Cancino, Executive Director of Community Bridges attests to hurdles in the process.  Credit: Tarmo Hannula, Good Times]

Red Tape and 'Shadow Debt' Are Pushing Renters to the EdgeGood Times [pdf]


After PCI Leverages $1.75 Million in Funding, Jobpath is Set for Expansion

[Excerpt]

....The JobPath program was founded by the Pima County Interfaith Council in 1998. Now its own, separate nonprofit entity, the program continues to provide supplementary funds to Pima County students.

But after 23 years, the workforce development program is bolstering its operations — with the help of $1.75 million in funding from the county — to reach hundreds of more students this year.

The county allocated JobPath $1 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11 to facilitate economic recovery from the pandemic. The other $750,000 was budgeted from the county’s general fund.

Including private and public donations and $185,000 from the city of Tucson, JobPath is operating under its largest budget ever this year at $2.3 million. Last fiscal year, the program enrolled 378 students. This year, the goal is to provide assistance to 670 students while hiring more staff to get the job done.

[Photo Credit: Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star]

Nonprofit JobPath to Expand its Reach with $1M in American Rescue Plan FundsArizona Daily Star [pdf]

 


TMO Secures $11.3M in Funding for Rental Assistance in Brazoria Co.

[Excerpt]

Churches in Brazoria County, with its county seat being in Angleton, are helping residents still hurting from the pandemic’s financial fallout to apply for rental assistance through a recent $11.3 million federal grant, community leaders say.

The monies became available June 14 after Church and community leaders met with Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta earlier in the spring. They specifically asked him how they could help distribute the funds so it wouldn’t be sent back to the federal government as had been considered.

A contingency of three Catholic priests, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) nonprofit and other church groups, including Grace Episcopal, met with the county judge back in March.

“We let the county judge know that we have volunteers to help with the paperwork and we have those in dire need of assistance,” said Sister Maureen O’Connell, director of the Secretariat for Social Concerns.

“Poor and vulnerable people trust the Church more. So this collaboration between government and Church groups is a wonderful opportunity to help them,” she said.

[Photo Credit: Catholic News Service]

$11.3 Million Approved for Brazoria County Residents Struggling With Rent in Pandemic, Texas Catholic Herald