Leaders with Central Texas Interfaith – a non-partisan coalition of religious congregations – are also pushing the city council to act.
Jonathan McManus-Dail, the assistant priest at St. Julien of Norwich Episcopal Church, said the city should use available federal funds to make an immediate impact.
“I think many people, myself included, want more urgency around this issue because we see people suffering,” McManus-Dail told KXAN.
When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith.
The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.” ....an unlikely coalition...emerged from across the political spectrum — including the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, the progressive Every Texan, and [Texas IAF], which does nonpartisan political work among religious groups.
The Texas Chapter 313 defeat is the second recent win against multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry subsidies in fossil fuel states. Last fall, organizers in Louisiana beat back a ballot initiative designed to counteract dramatic reforms to the state’s industry giveaway program. In a state that leans heavily Republican, people voted down the constitutional amendment by a landslide.
Broderick Bagert, who helped organize the Louisiana effort, sees what happened in Texas as part of a turning of the tides in a region where industry has long ruled. “In a lot of cases, it’s not that these battles have been lost — they just haven’t been fought,” he said. “What you’re seeing for the first time is the battles being fought.”
....Bagert noted that Louisiana and Texas are two of a handful of states whose industries will decide what our climate future will look like. “The question of these subsidies is being tied more and more with the question of whether these changes in energy production that we need to save the planet are going to be made in time to save the planet,” he said. “It all boils down to the price of energy. Once industries have to bear the full cost of their production, including emissions and taxes and all the other things that have been subsidized, then it’s no longer advantageous, and that’s when things start happening.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
The Unlikely Demise of Texas’ Biggest Corporate Tax Break, Texas Observer [pdf]
Texas IAF, Bishops, Faithful Call on Lt. Governor and Senate to Reject 'Permitless Carry' Legislation
Bishops, rabbis, clergy and faithful from across Texas convened to express vocal opposition to the passage of proposed legislation HB1927 which would allow "permitless carry" in the state of Texas.
Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz referenced the massacre in El Paso which resulted in dozens of residents dead and seriously injured. Baptist Rev. Darryl Crooms from San Antonio testified to the "unnaturalness" of adults burying children. Lutheran Rev. Jessica Cain testified to the impact of last weekend's shooting in North Austin on local worshippers. Rabbi David Lyon recalled last year's deadly shooting in Santa Fe High School.
Together -- with Lutheran Bishop Erik Gronberg, Episcopal Bishop Suffragan Kathryn Ryan, Methodist Director of Missional Outreach Andy Lewis, Dallas Catholic Bishop Gregory Kelly and several lay leaders -- all expressed concern that passage of HB1927 would increase gun violence. States that have passed similar laws, removing the required license and training needed to carry a handgun, experienced spikes in homicides and gun violence.
“Our faith tradition teaches us to protect life,” said Bishop Suffragan Kathryn M. Ryan of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. “You cannot protect life if people carrying deadly weapons aren’t properly trained and licensed.
"You’ll find no scripture that will support this kind of legislation,” said Pastor John Ogletree, First Metropolitan Church of Houston.
“It makes our church much less safe,” said El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz.
Texas Faith Leaders Come Out Against 'Permitless Carry', CBS Austin [pdf]
Even during the Texas winter storm blackout, CTI leaders swung into action to support low-income families cut off from access to heat, potable water and food. Not only did they deliver direct assistance from their own pantries (and eventually much more in collaboration with the County of Travis) they participated in a Texas IAF press conference calling for structural reforms to the statewide power grid. In Waco, CTI furthermore helped support a local congregation that opened their doors to vulnerable residents needing warmth.
Profiled in the stories below are people and communities Central Texas Interfaith introduced to reporters, including from the Washington Post.
[At Pecan Park Mobile Homes] on the eastern edge of Austin, Kamel is struggling to plan out the next few weeks for his family. Business had already been slow for his pressure-washing company because of the pandemic, but the freeze has now damaged the equipment.
“We are not able to use anything. So we have like a zero income for now,” said Kamel, who must pay rent by the first week of March to avoid $75 daily late fees. “I’m nervous. I’m sure we are not going to be able to pay on time.”
Days earlier, he nearly lost his three children to carbon monoxide poisoning after they used a charcoal stove to warm their mobile home. He said he felt like a prisoner listening to his children cry from the painful cold during their five days without power. Fear tore through Kamel and his wife after their son began vomiting and they rushed to the hospital.
The hardship reminded Kamel of his own childhood in Iraq, but he said he felt less prepared than his parents, who were accustomed to surviving. The 41-year-old has endured much in his life, but he did not expect this in Texas. The power and weather crises are over, but the consequences for his family will reverberate for weeks.
Kamel applied for individual assistance from FEMA after learning through his kids’ school about the help. Organizers from Central Texas Interfaith have also helped his family with immediate needs, such as food and water.
“We’ve been through similar tough times, but this time it’s different because we have kids,” Kamel said of himself and his wife. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen like next week or like 10 days from here or a month from here, you know?”
Texas Storm Left Death, Devastation in Vulnerable Communities, National Catholic Report - Earthbeat [pdf]
Help On Ice: St. Alban's Serves as Warming Center, Act Locally Waco
While we desperately need immediate relief, we must also seek long-term systemic change.
As faith leaders, we have a responsibility to cry out for the vulnerable and seek the common good, and this means the reform of a utility system that has served as a means for profit, putting profit before people.
Last week, The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations with interfaith leaders from across the state held a press conference, urging the governor and legislature to take responsibility and put people before profits. It is time to direct recovery resources and restructure utility oversight to protect all, especially the poorer residents already on the edge because of the pandemic.
Texas IAF Declares State Power Failure an 'Act of Sheer Negligence,' Demands Accountability from State Leaders
While state officials announced later in the day that power had stabilized and forced shutoffs were no longer needed, more than 300,000 households remained without power....Texas was especially hard hit because most of its power grid is isolated from the interconnected networks serving the eastern and western parts of the U.S. That made it difficult to import energy from other states when frozen pipes shut down generating station.
The failure of Texas' electric grid led faith leaders across the state on Thursday to call out Gov. Greg Abbott for a lack of leadership and preparation. They urged him to request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and dip into the state's $10 billion "rainy-day" fund to help Texans cover expensive home repairs and energy bills.
They also called on state leaders to act on a 2012 plan to modernize and weatherize the electric grid....
"We are calling for Gov. Abbott to first take responsibility for this gross negligence and stop finger-pointing. This is a gross act of negligence that has caused harm to the whole state of Texas, and it's time to put people over profits," the Rev. John Ogletree of the First Metropolitan Church of Houston said at a virtual press conference Thursday. The event was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 10 mostly faith-based organizations statewide that represents more than 1 million people.
"The state leadership has known that this needed to change, and they have done nothing," Elizabeth Valdez, director of Texas IAF, told EarthBeat.
"The storm may have been an act of nature, but the devastation of the electrical grid shutdown is an act of sheer negligence," Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Diocese added in a statement.
Kelly and other faith leaders who spoke during the press conference and with EarthBeat described the struggles facing their state's people because of the freeze: Temperatures in homes hovering at 30 degrees. Elderly people unable to use dialysis machines. A 76-year-old woman sleeping in her car for warmth. Churches that would typically offer shelter could not because they too lacked power and water...
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
Rev. Paul Skeith from SoCo Episcopal Community and Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) testified at the Travis County Commissioners Court to advocate that any private company receiving public tax subsidies from the county pay living wages, benefits, a career track, and strategy to hire locally. The Court subsequently adopted these and other worker safety measures as part of a package advocated by CTI congregations and member institutions including Workers Defense Project, LIUNA, and Central Texas Building Trades.
On Tuesday the Travis County Commissioners Court held a discussion on “Project Silicon Silver,” widely speculated to be the alias for chipmaking giant Samsung’s development contract. The discussion centered around acceptance of the preliminary application, along with a corresponding $150,000 fee paid out to the county by the developer.
The county is considering providing financial benefits in exchange for Samsung’s adherence to worker protection, wage, compensation, OSHA requirements and more.
Several citizen callers also stressed the need for county stipulations, including a living wage indexed to cost of living, local employee minimums and health insurance benefits for employees.
Father Paul Skeith of SoCo Episcopal Community advocated for all of the above issues, in addition to the opportunity for employees to rise within the company.
Jessica Wolff with Workers Defense Project highlighted the strengths of the development standards, citing the local hiring requirement, construction training requirement and anti-retaliation provisions, and called for the standards set in this policy to become the county norm.
”We recognize this is a great first step and there’s still more work to be done,” Wolff said.
Texas IAF & Allies Call on State and Local Governments to Beat December Deadline for Coronavirus Rental Relief
Before the pandemic, Maria Ramirez (in photo above) and her husband made more than enough money to afford their two-bedroom apartment in Dallas. Now, they owe $4,000+ in back rent and late fees. When they applied for local aid, they were denied.
"For four months, millions of these funds have wafted around the corridors of City Hall while each day vulnerable families are threatened with evictions," said Jon Lee, a retired pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church and leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Texas IAF leaders across the state are working with local elected officials to spend down millions in assistance dollars that they leveraged earlier this year. Onerous online application processes and excessive documentation requirements hampered access to available assistance for the most vulnerable. Warned Rev. Michael Floyd of Central Texas Interfaith, "Families who lost employment are racking up months of unpaid rent and as eviction moratoriums end, they will be forced out of their homes."
Texas IAF leaders and allies are also calling on the Governor to draw down available funding for rental assistance for smaller cities. If not spent by the end of the year, unspent dollars will have to be returned to the US Treasury.
Says Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, of TMO, “The CDC order create[d] 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.”
Advocacy on eviction prevention has become an important part of this work as well. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is affiliated with The Metropolitan Organization, a CCHD-fund grassroots organization that has taken on eviction prevention work since March.
Much of the effort has focused on convincing Houston and Harris County officials to quickly distribute tens of millions of dollars for rental assistance that was allocated under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, said Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer with The Metropolitan Organization.
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
TMO Call[s] on Leaders to Halt Evictions, Congress to Pass Next Stimulus Bill, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
"Talarico also might have gotten a boost from efforts from Central Texas Interfaith, a network of churches, synagogues and other religious organizations that held its own non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaign.
The group targeted voting precincts with historically low voter turnout and church presence with a phone campaign aimed at individuals the organization identified as low propensity voters. By the end of early voting, they saw marked increases in 16 of the 17 precincts they targeted across the Austin area. Those included Williamson County precincts in Talarico’s district as well as State Rep. John Bucy III’s district. Bucy, D-Austin, also won re-election Tuesday.
Rev. Miles R. Brandon II, of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church in Round Rock, said many of the people they contacted found it refreshing that they were being asked only to vote and weren’t being sold a particular candidate or political party. “We don’t talk to people about candidates, but we talk to them about issues,” Brandon said. “I think, we don’t get hung up as much because we don’t represent a party or candidate.”
Of the nearly 18,000 people contacted, about 9,500 of them ended up casting a vote by the end of early voting, according to Central Texas Interfaith. Several candidates on the ballot who worked with the network of congregations, including Talarico, Bucy and State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, won their respective races."
Suburban Swing:Once Reliably Red, Williamson Voters Back Biden, Cornyn, American-Statesman [pdf]
Increasing participation in the political process is at the heart of Bastrop Interfaith’s mission as Election Day approaches.
A nonpartisan, multi-issue organization, Bastrop Interfaith is part of a larger organization called Central Texas Interfaith, which works to address public issues that affect members of different communities.
Made up of community institutions like churches, neighborhood associations and public school groups, Bastrop Interfaith pulls together community members to address common issues.
A large part of this effort, according to Edie Clark, a Bastrop County resident and leader with Bastrop Interfaith, is developing leaders within local communities so people have the skills and opportunities to engage with public officials about salient topics.
This year, that means informing as many county residents as possible about the issues at hand for the election, and where different local and state candidates stand on them.
[County Map Courtesy of Bastrop County]
Bastrop County Nonprofit Works to Increase Voter Participation in Low Turnout Area, Austin American Statesman [pdf]