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]
...during the early portion of an Aug. 11 meeting of Pitkin County commissioners... representatives of the Mountain Voices Project — a consortium of more than 25 nonprofits, faith-based organizations and other entities in the Roaring Fork Valley — sought financial support for a new “landlord-tenant recovery fund” designed to assist low-income families struggling to make ends meet amid the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lindsay Lofaro, executive director of The Buddy Program in Aspen, was one of several speakers advocating for Pitkin County’s support of the fund. She got involved in facilitating the discussion, she said, because her nonprofit mentoring organization is a member of Mountain Voices Project (also known as MVP) — and also because of her familiarity with Pitkin County officials and local fundraising sources.
According to information provided by MVP, the overall request is for $1 million to get the program started this year...
The general plan calls for families to receive three months of rental assistance. MVP will supply one-third of the payments to landlords. The families themselves will pay one-third. The balance would be foregone by the landlords themselves, should they agree to participate. The Uncle Bob Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Garfield County Housing Authority, will serve as fiscal agent for the fund.
[Photo Credit: Andre Salvail, Aspen Daily News]
Coloradans for the Common Good Helps Comcast Close Digital Divide and Include Immigrants in Nationwide Program
[Additional background from the Colorado Sun:]
In March, Comcast began offering [a] discounted service for free for 60 days to new families. The service usually costs $9.95 per month and caters to low-income households. Comcast also increased the service’s internet speed to 25 mbps and plans to continue making it free for 60 days to new eligible customers for the rest of 2020. The company is also offering free public Wi-Fi through the end of the year.
But the Internet Essentials program didn’t necessarily appeal to everyone who qualified. Coloradans for the Common Good this spring approached Comcast to ask the internet giant to modify its application, which asked for Social Security numbers even though other forms of identification were acceptable.
That deterred some immigrant families from attempting to enroll in the service. Coloradans for the Common Good — composed of churches, community organizations and teachers’ unions — reached out to lawmakers and Comcast’s corporate leaders pleading for change. After a series of email exchanges and Zoom meetings, Comcast adjusted its application nationwide to better reflect the variety of identification forms accepted. That change took effect in June, said Marilyn Winokur, co-chair of Coloradans for the Common Good.
“We want to get as many, many families that don’t have internet access to have the access that they need in order to participate in remote learning should it happen again,” Winokur said.
[Photo Credit: Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun]
Big Wins on Internet Access, Fair Wages for School Workers, Coloradans for the Common Good
Friends, loved ones, and fellow union members gathered in Greeley Sunday to remember the six JBS employees who died due to COVID-19. The memorial event was held by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7, which represents many employees at the meat packing plant.
The JBS plant in Greeley was home to one of the state’s earliest and largest coronavirus outbreaks. Since the beginning of April, 281 employees at the plant have tested positive for COVID-19 and 6 have died. According to state data, one employee from the corporate office also died....
“They had a name, they had a face, they had a heartbeat, they had a soul,” said Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7. “We should never let anybody forget what happened to these workers.”
“Employers like JBS must answer for not protecting its vulnerable workers,” said Jorge Montiel, an organizer with the Colorado Industrial Areas Foundation. “City and county and state officials must answer for not ensuring our public health.”
Mountain Voices Project Launches 'Landlord/Tenant Housing Recovery Plan' to Prevent Tsunami of Summer Evictions in Aspen
Longtime local resident Maria works in housekeeping and lives in a shared mobile home in El Jebel. She said she’s worried about paying her $300-a-month rent this summer....“My life is very simple,” Maria said. “I work, work, work, and now with the quarantine we can't even work, so financially, coronavirus has really affected me.” ....She recently received $950 in financial support from local nonprofit MANAUS. “Thank God right now I have enough to get by,” she said. “It just comes down to me having to really stretch that… this month I do have the money to pay the rent, but I don't have it for July or August."
On Thursday.... Mountain Voices Project ... propose[d] the “Landlord/Tenant Housing Recovery Plan” [with] over 160 local leaders in attendance, including representatives from nonprofits, schools and faith-based institutions as well as several Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield county commissioners.
The housing recovery plan involves creating a fund backed by local governments and private donors to support both landlords and tenants. The meeting last Thursday was the first step in getting local institutions, philanthropists and counties to consider coming together and working towards a common goal. Those in attendance were encouraged to take the proposal back to their respective organizations ahead of the next meeting, which is scheduled for later this month.
[Photo Credit: Eleanor Bennett, Aspen Public Radio]
Local Organizations Take Steps To Prevent A ‘Tsunami Of Evictions’ This Summer, Aspen Public Radio [pdf]
[Photo Credit: Nathan W. Armes/Chalkbeat]
Comcast has made its low-cost program, called Internet Essentials, free for two months to families that qualify for programs such as food stamps or subsidized school lunches. But....undocumented families may not have the identification required to sign up for free internet service or may not feel comfortable providing it.
“We want to work with you to ensure equity of access for all of our students,” said a letter that the advocacy group Coloradans for the Common Good sent to Comcast executives Monday. “We hope to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss potential solutions.”
The letter was signed by faith leaders and the president of the Colorado Education Association, as well as the presidents of several local teachers unions, including Denver and Jefferson County....
To sign up for Internet Essentials, Comcast asks for a Social Security number. If a person doesn’t have one, Comcast instructs that person to take a picture of themselves holding their identification or to bring that identification to a company store.
Emilio Ramos, a social worker who works at two Denver elementary schools, said he’s heard from families where the parents are undocumented and don’t have a Social Security number.
He said parents are afraid that if they admit they’re undocumented and also provide their photo and personal information, that information could be flagged in Comcast’s system and shared with the government, making them a target for arrest or deportation.
Originally, the free internet was available to families who signed up by mid-May. Comcast has extended the deadline to June 30, a step praised by Coloradans for the Common Good, the coalition of labor union and faith leaders that pushed for the change.
Press Conference Video, Coloradans for the Common Good
In an attempt to bridge the gap between renters and landlords, as well as the banks that play a critical role in the housing market, Anderson has joined forces with Coloradans for the Common Good, which describes itself as "a broad-based, non-partisan network of organizations, affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation — the oldest and largest community organizing network, organized for ordinary people to have a powerful voice in the decisions that affect their lives and communities...
“Even during normal times, it’s not unusual for someone to spend 50% to 60% of their monthly income on housing. But now, that’s untenable,” said the Rev. John Anderson of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada.
“In 2008, taxpayers bailed out financial institutions,” Anderson said. “So banks are in a strong enough position today to help take the lead on this solution. And if landlords were given help with their mortgages, then they also ought to — in return — help their tenants.” He added that he hoped landlords and banks would contact the coalition, Coloradans for the Common Good, but that there was no active effort to push for an executive order or legislation to mandate the group’s goals...
[Photo by twinsterphoto]
Faith-labor coalition calls for keeping people housed during pandemic, CP Colorado Politics [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?”
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]
'Mountain Voices' Speaks Against Evictions, Displacement, Aspen Daily News [pdf]
'Mountain Voices' Levanta su Voz en Contra del Desalojo, Aspen Daily News [en español]