Claudia Cruz, whose primary language is Spanish, said Dallas Area Interfaith— a coalition of Dallas religious congregations, schools and nonprofits — has been her main source of information since the COVID-19 pandemic began because “it’s the most accessible,” Cruz said.
“Our only source of information has been through DAI and through the people in our community,” Cruz said.
"We have to be informed because we are the most vulnerable," [Maria] Ramirez explains.
The information Ramirez has gotten throughout the pandemic has mostly been through her own efforts seeking it out and through the community groups she was already involved with. Ramirez's church sends out information to congregants, as does The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a local nonprofit of which she is a member.
On a balmy day at the St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church in East Dallas, parishioners working with the nonprofit Dallas Area Interfaith talked among themselves about problems they faced as they passed out food to a long line of needy people.
Rosa Garcia said she was already helping family cope with the deaths of two family members in Dallas when her husband found out two more relatives had died in Florida. “For immigrants, it is harder. We have to struggle three times harder,” Garcia said.
Nearby, a small woman named Cecilia with a white face mask set below bloodshot eyes took a break. She said she didn’t sleep much because rats and bugs have infested her apartment, and she must be on guard that they don’t bite her children at night.
Cecilia lives on a janitor’s wages. She asked that her surname not be published because she is undocumented and fears she’d lose her job. She can’t pay her rent and the landlord says it will be an extra $300 if she wants to change apartments....
[Photo Credit: Ben Torres, Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News]
Speakers who testified in support of this local aid included Bishop Edward Burns and Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Erik KJ Gronberg of the Northern Texas - Northern Louisiana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Rabbi Kimberly Herzog-Cohen of Temple Emanu-El.
Funding will come directly from the CARES Act (and other federal funding the city has available) and will be targeted at households making 80% or below of the area median income and are left out of the federal stimulus CARES Act. DAI leaders argued that with 50,000 renters in danger of not being able to pay the rent, a large local aid package would be essential.
The City of Dallas expects to start accepting applications as soon as May 4.
“It’s a special time with everything that’s happening because of the pandemic, but we have to think of our homes as having converted into our church where the word of God reaches us through the TV and social media,” said Jesus Belmontes, the priest of the San Juan Diego Catholic Parish in Dallas.
Belmontes, the Dallas priest, helped organize a drive-thru food distribution with Dallas Area Interfaith the day before Easter and looks forward to seeing some of his church community through car windows. He’ll spend Sunday mostly alone, streaming from an altar where he’d usually lead thousands of congregants for mass...
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant, Dallas Morning News]
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][pdf]
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]
In the face of increasingly public deportation threats, DAI's parish strategy to 'welcome the stranger' has translated into an array of actions designed to combat fear and fortify relationships between individuals, families, communities and religious institutions. Teams of parish leaders are organizing events that include citizenship screenings, Diocesan-certified parish identification cards, family health fairs (like the one in photo above) and 'Know Your Rights' sessions.
According to Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul, the church is working to dispel fear and to build community amidst a climate that breeds isolation.
This summer will mark one year since the Catholic Diocese of Dallas outlined official requirements for parish identification cards, which would be made available to parishioners who lack access to state-issued IDs. Since then, 20 Catholic parishes have embraced the strategy, organizing teams of lay leaders to help screen applicants and issue the parish identification cards according to Diocesan standards. Parish IDs are now accepted by four police departments in North Texas: Carrollton, Dallas, Farmers Branch and Mesquite. Acceptance by these police departments was negotiated in 2017 in collaboration with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Rev. Jesus Belmontes attest that the IDs have brought relief to a vulnerable community. The acceptance of these cards by the police communicates that "they want to protect us rather than harm us. This is a ray of light that, little by little, has the potential to enlighten us all."
Parish IDs Bring Relief to Immigrant Community, Dallas Catholic Magazine
ID Parroquiales Traen Alivio a Comunidad Inmigrante, Revista Católica
Texas IAF Advances EDAP Legislation for Economically Distressed Areas & Continues Push for Restoration of ACE Funding
One month after 300 Texas IAF leaders descended on the Capitol to call for investments in human development, delegations have been visiting the Capitol daily to engage legislators around school finance, the ACE fund, payday lending and infrastructure support for economically distressed areas.
Legislative allies in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso crafted a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board for projects in economically distressed areas. The proposal is almost to the finish line.
With ACE funding already in the draft budget, leaders are working to restore it to its original $10 Million. When economist Marc Elliot from Economic Mobility delivered a presentation on the effectiveness of the Project QUEST job training model at the Capitol, representatives from over a dozen legislative offices attended.
The QUEST model is hailed as the hitting on a "formula with a proven track record" and Texas IAF organizations across the state have applied it in Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas ACE Fund Return on Investment, Texas IAF
Nine Year Gains: Project Quest's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Not All Programs Fade: New Report on Project QUEST RCT Shows Sizable None-Year Earnings Gains for Low-Income Workers, Straight Talk on Evidence [pdf]
In fall of 2018, the federal government proposed redefining who might be considered a “public charge” -- a federal designation for people it believes are overly dependent on federally-funded social services. Under proposed changes, immigrants who are "likely at any time" to become a public charge could be ineligible to get visas and green cards that give them legal permanent residency.
Dallas Area Interfaith soon began receiving calls from parents of US-born children who stopped getting medical care and nutrition assistance for their kids. In response, DAI began organizing parish-based efforts to educate and urge the public to weigh in on the proposed changes .
“We have already heard stories of parents un-enrolling their kids from CHIP,” Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul said. “It is another piece in building a culture of fear.”
It is through congregation-based relationships and networks that DAI is educating the public about ways to take action on this issue.
[Photo Credit: Obed Manual, Dallas Morning News]