As COVID-19 cases in North Texas rise again, Dallas Area Interfaith leaders and Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly fight for relief for undocumented immigrants.
Says Bishop Kelly: "They don't have any access to any kind of support -- any kind of stimulus support -- and so they have to work..."
TMO is among the coalition of nonprofits that have approached the city and county to urge the equitable distribution of those funds.
“We asked City Council to commit $100 million of the $404 million in the Coronavirus Relief Fund to rental assistance. But the next day, they committed $15 million that was distributed online in a matter of minutes to about 12,000 families,” Higgs said.
“A survey shows of the 700,000 rental units in the area, up to 85,000 cannot pay rent at this time. A huge number of the people are service workers, men and women of color, hourly workers who lost their jobs with little if any savings. The need is so immense,” he said.
With any moratoriums on evictions ending, justices of the peace may resume processing eviction notices by mid-June and constables will start showing up at apartments, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense to evict someone who has paid regularly but is not able to currently pay during this crisis. Plus, when someone in uniform shows up to evict, it’s scary as heck, especially for those who may be undocumented,” Higgs said.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church]
Facing Eviction, Single Mothers With Kids Hit Hardest By Need For Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called on the City of Austin to provide at least $40 Milllion in rental assistance for economically distressed families in the COVID-19 crisis. On Thursday, June 4, the Austin City Council unanimously responded.
Central Texas Interfaith commends the Mayor, Austin City Council and City Manager for approving a COVID spending framework that includes nearly $24 million new dollars for the RENT Program plus $12 million new dollars for the RISE Program for direct income support.
That, combined with other additional new sources, puts the City of Austin well over the $40 million dollars in new rental assistance that Central Texas Interfaith has called for. It also includes tens of millions more in financial support for those in need. We look forward to working with the City of Austin and other organizations on implementation of these programs and beginning to look at our longer term economic recovery and workforce strategies.
Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to Renters, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Allocating Far Less in Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis Compared to Other Texas Cities, KVUE (Pre-conference) [video] [pdf]
Travis County Approves $10M for Direct Rental and Mortgage Assistance, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance Program, Austin Monitor [pdf]
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.
In mid-April, Governor Gavin Newsom allocated $75 million in emergency assistance to undocumented immigrants impacted by the pandemic. Philanthropic organizations and private donors pledged an additional $50 million.
But, undocumented immigrants still don’t qualify for the federal stimulus checks and can’t apply for unemployment insurance. They are also barred from the state’s tax credit program for low-income workers.
“Governor Newsom has come out many times to talk about the value of the immigrant community, a recognition that the undocumented are part of California and deserve to be part of the California dream. And this... this is contradictory to leaving people out of that tax break,” said McManus....
Immigrant advocates say they’re not giving up, especially now.
“At the same time that we can see the disparity right now. We also can see how much we benefit from them,” said Maria Elena Manzo, a COPA leader.
COPA’s Tim McManus says this fight is about recognition through policy, and putting money in people’s pockets.
“So forgetting about what you think about fairness or justice or morality, this is an economic stimulus. We're gonna recover stronger if all of California can land back on their feet sooner,” he said.
[Photo Credit: Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Voices of Monterey Bay]
No Relief Here, Voices of Monterey Bay
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]
...workers who labor shoulder to shoulder at the plant and others fear the contagion has spread to more people in the Dallas area. Sick workers who do not get themselves tested could spread the virus when they are out and about or when they return to the plant.
“The workers at these plants are essential workers, especially now,” said auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Catholic Diocese. “They help keep the food supply chain intact for all of us… They are particularly vulnerable because of the kind of work that they do and in greater need of protection at this time. Just as the state has done elsewhere in Texas, they should require testing of their employees for the safety of all."
Josephine Lopez-Paul, an organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, said she is organizing a plan to assist those families. “It’s in our collective interest to protect these workers,” Lopez-Paul said. “The state also has a responsibility to these workers.”
[Photo Credit: Ryan Michalesko, Dallas Morning News]
Experts, Activists Want Virus Testing at Meat-Processing Plants to Prevent Community Spread, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
On Tuesday evening, May 5, over 1,200 California IAF leaders, 10 Bishops and 7 state legislators converged on Zoom and Facebook Live to demand the Governor and legislature provide immediate relief for essential workers left out of state and federal relief.
"There are millions of California workers who take care of our elders, our children, grow our food, and get it to the stores. Many of them are undocumented, but their work contributes billions of dollars to the California economy," said Rev. Dr. Julie Roberts-Fronk, Co-Chair of the action and a leader with ICON.
Undocumented immigrants represent 10% of the California workforce, pay over $3 billion in state and local taxes and add $180 billion to the economy. They comprise 33% of agricultural workers and 32% of healthcare workers in California, working at great personal risk during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"During this pandemic, there is a tendency to throw people to the margins, to throw them into the shadows,"said Bishop Jaime Soto, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
"What we need to do is develop a culture of encounter, a culture of solidarity to beat back the coronavirus and to create a healthy and safe network. We need to recognize the flaw in the Cal EITC. It leaves out California workers and taxpayers, which not only jeopardizes their lives, it also jeopardizes the well being of the entire state of California."
"Immigrant workers are not draining our economy, they are subsidizing it," said Senator Maria Elena Durazo. "We would not be the fifth largest economy in the world without them."
Earlier this month, the California IAF and the California Catholic Conference wrote letters to Governor Newsom, urging him to expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit (Cal EITC) to include ITIN filers, many of whom are undocumented. The tax credit would put much needed dollars quickly back into the hands of working families. Studies show that for every 1 dollar invested in workers, the local economy generates 2 dollars.
Maria Elena Manzo, a leader with COPA has worked with a group of women in Salinas for many years to spread the word about the Cal EITC.
"When they first learned about the tax credit, they were very excited. One woman said, 'this is going to come at a perfect time, the agricultural season has not started yet and we are struggling right now.' Her hopes vanished when she learned she wasn’t going to get the credit, but it did not stop her from helping others."
Leaders secured commitments from state legislators to work with their six organizations to advance the legislation during upcoming budget hearings, and to press the Governor to find the money. They also committed to meeting with local organizations within two weeks, and joining regional civic academies on the issue to build a larger constituency.
Immigrant Workers Face Economic Uncertainty During Covid-19 Shutdown, America Magazine [pdf]
Faith Leaders Call on State to Support Undocumented Immigrants, The Pajaronian [pdf]
While it likely won’t address every need that arises from the economic downturn, [a new City program that provides $25 million in financial relief for San Antonio residents] has been touted as an example of how local government can partly fill a gap for families who don’t qualify for federal aid.
“No strings attached, no citizenship necessary, no documents, no paper necessary. Just residents in San Antonio and economic need,”
said Father Bill Kraus of Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church.
Kraus worked alongside other COPS/Metro leaders to lobby City Council to increase the fund from $15.8 million to $25 million before it gained final approval. And the organization’s leaders are still working throughout the city to identify potential solutions for immigrant families.
Angelica Reyes, a COPS/Metro leader, parent in Harlandale Independent School District, and immigrant, discovered her own challenges as her school-age children switched to at-home learning. Reyes learned that she didn’t have the basic computer skills needed to help her kids adjust to class on a computer. Reyes and other parents and decided to approach the district for help.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, Rivard Report]
With No Federal Aid, Immigrant Families, Students Lean on Local Support, Rivard Report [pdf][pdf]
Commentary: A GI Bill for San Antonio, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
$25 Million Housing Assistance Fund Offers Relief to San Antonians Affected by COVID-19, Texas Public Radio [pdf]
No Evictions for Now in Bexar County, but Renters' Struggles Likely to Persist, Rivard Report [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