With the coronavirus transforming the way religious congregations operate all over Texas, Central Texas Interfaith has been at the forefront of efforts in Waco and McLennan County to bring together congregational leaders and help them navigate Stay-at-Home orders.
Town Hall Held with Faith Leaders, CBS-KWTX
WTOS & Llano Estacado Alliance for Democracy (LEAD) clergy and leaders succeeded in getting City of Lubbock Utilities to halt robocalls to residents. The automated calls were causing "fear and anxiety that utilities would be shut off," even after the emergency declaration was put into place.
“As a pastoral leader in Lubbock I want to recognize the City of Lubbock Utilities for listening and assisting to reduce the fear and panic especially among some of our city’s most vulnerable people, a segment of our population very much in need of compassion in the current difficult circumstances,” said The Most Reverend Bishop Robert Coerver of the Catholic Diocese of Lubbock.
Rev. Becky Fox, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church added, “We look forward to future opportunities to work together with City of Lubbock Utilities to continue to find ways to better serve our community.”
[Photo Credit: AP Graphics]
City of Lubbock Utility Robocalls to Stop, KCBD 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]
Alba Garcia, 51, has a decision to make. Does she pay rent Wednesday or does she buy food for her 7-year-old daughter?
“Maybe I should try and pay my rent because I can’t bear for me and my daughter to be on the streets. I can beg for food but I can’t lose my apartment," she said in Spanish. Joe Higgs, an organizer for The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) acted as a translator. TMO works with Holy Ghost Catholic Church where Garcia is a member.
The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) — which is a coalition of organizations and religious institutions — is working with Garcia’s and Hernandez’s church to help them and others in dire situations. Their two big focuses during the coronavirus crisis are ensuring the poorest and most vulnerable people in the Houston area have food security and don’t lose housing.
“As Rev. John Ogletree of First Metropolitan Church and TMO said at a TMO virtual press conference on Wednesday, March 18, ‘hourly and part-time workers like waiters, cleaning crews, bartenders, dishwashers and others are losing their income and this is forcing them to decide whether to buy food, pay utility bills or pay rent,'” the group wrote in a press release.
Among their demands from local lawmakers, TMO is asking that Gov. Greg Abbott place a moratorium on evictions.
[Photo Credit: Click2Houston.com]
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 only public testimony at today’s Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting, Texas IAF leader Rev. Miles Brandon of Central Texas Interfaith called on the PUC to create assistance programs and halt cutoffs for customers impacted by the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. At the meeting the PUC voted to create the “COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program” providing financial assistance and halting service disconnections for low-income and unemployed customers in deregulated markets such as Dallas, Houston, and Round Rock
“COVID-19 is causing uncertainty and many hardships, and during this time, Central Texas Interfaith and our partner organizations in Texas IAF don’t want Texas citizens to have their physical or financial health put in danger unnecessarily," said Rev. Brandon.
PUC Chair DeAnn T. Walker recognized Fr. Brandon and the work of the Texas IAF organizations in advocating for families across the state.
6 million Texans live in the areas impact by the measures enacted by PUC today. Today’s actions were a first step. Texas IAF leaders plan to work with PUC leaders to extend and potentially expand these protections and assistance programs as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
Statement by Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, Central TX Interfaith
Statement by Bryan Lopez, Assumption Catholic Church in Houston, TMO
In small group conversations organized through their congregations, Valley Interfaith leaders Elisa Alfaro of Holy Spirit parish and Dayra Campos of San Juan Diego kept hearing the same stories: workers in cold storage facilities earning less than the minimum wage and experiencing rampant labor abuse.
While the federal minimum wage is $7.25, parishioners shared that they are often paid less than half that by McAllen producers. When one company closed access to the bathroom for employees, they were forced to walk 10 minutes to a gas station for their bathroom break. Another parishioner shared constant threats by their boss if they were to admit working 10 hours per day for $600 per month (less than half the minimum wage).
In response, Valley Interfaith leaders are calling on the City of McAllen to ensure that no company that pays workers under the minimum wage, or is guilty of wage theft, receives incentives from the city. They are also calling on the City to investigate abusive labor practices. Leaders are now meeting with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and McAllen City Manager about making these changes.
"Nobody should earn a slave wage," said Elisa Alfaro.
[Image Credit: KVEO footage]
Fair Pay a Distant Dream for Produce Packers in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio Express-News
More than two years after Hurricane Harvey flooded St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Kathy Gabriel’s home, she finally celebrated the holidays this past November and December in her home that had to be demolished and rebuilt....Sherry Dunlap, [is] a fellow parishioner who took it upon her faith in action to help those families.
“Thanks to training through TMO (The Metropolitan Organization), I became the de facto Harvey Disaster Case Administrator for the church and our parishioners and others around the city,” Dunlap said.
Even St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church itself was inundated with water and the subsequent problems of mold and other issues that the Archdiocese helped to resolve.
TMO and Gulf Coast Leadership Council (GCLC) representative Gina Reynoso said the nonprofit organizations acted as a conduit to connect people in need after the hurricane with the multitude of agencies attempting to help.
With contribution from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, GCLC organized meetings with churches and their congregations impacted by the hurricane as being places of trust among the flurry of contractors and others trying to get a piece of the work. Reynoso said, “In the last two years, GCLC has held outreach sessions reaching more than 2,000 people....
[Photo Credit (left): James Ramos, Herald; (right): St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church]
A Renovated Home for the Holidays: St. Francis of Assisi Parishioners Mark Second Christmas Since Harvey, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
As part of an immigration strategy initiated in collaboration with Valley Interfaith, the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, St. Eugene Catholic Church in Brownsville, TX began issuing parish ID cards.
Held on a Saturday, the ID Fest was organized to make the identification cards available to immigrant parishioners in need of a way to identify themselves to local law enforcement.
“ID cards can only be used for identification purposes, it is not a government issued card and cannot be used to vote, does not take place of drivers license,” said Jose Hinojosa of Valley Interfaith. So far, leaders have negotiated with the Police Departments of McAllen, Pharr, Edinburg, San Juan and Brownsville to recognize parish IDs.
Said Nancy Cruz, St. Eugene and Valley Interfaith leader, “No one should feel afraid to report a crime for lack of an ID.”
[Photo Credit: (top and bottom right) St. Eugene Mazenod Catholic Church; (bottom left) footage, KVEO]
Oblate Parish in Brownsville Offering ID Cards, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate United States Province [pdf]
Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer Parish ID, Interfaith Education Fund
....Jewish wisdom teaches that if you don’t know if you are selling weaponry or the materials to make weapons to people who are known to be safe or people who have a history of violence, then you may not sell. American Law responds to this wisdom with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). When someone goes to buy a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), that FLL (a.k.a. the seller) contacts the NICS and the NICS staff performs the background check on the buyer.
But, if the seller doesn’t get an answer from the NICS in three business days, he can sell without a completed background check. In addition, there are no required background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales. Resulting from this loophole, the shooter in Midland-Odessa was able to purchase his gun from a private seller, though he had previous failed a background check and been denied a gun purchase from an FFL.
Addressing these loopholes is the exact topic of two bills, HR1112 and HR8, respectively. Each passed by the US House at the end of February, and each were read twice in the Senate in March. It is time to urge Senator Cornyn to take action to prevent gun violence and save lives in Texas! As a senior member of the Senate he can help pass these two bills to close these loopholes.
Central Texas Interfaith is calling on Senator Cornyn to act. We are gathering thousands of postcards from Texans like us to send to Senator John Cornyn, showing that we stand with our brothers and sisters in El Paso in the fight for gun violence prevention through national policies. When you sign and return one of these post cards in person or online you are adding your voice to the call...
Rabbi Rebecca Reice: Gun Owners Can — And Should! — Work to End Gun Violence, Hill Country News [pdf]