Texas IAF Leaders Demand State Legislators Weatherize Power Grid, Provide Relief for Families Struggling with Repairs
The virtual press conference was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations — a nonpartisan coalition of 10 primarily faith-based organizations across the state that represents more than 1 million people — and The Metropolitan Organization, a Houston-based civic group, to keep public attention on the aftermath of the widespread power outages that occurred earlier this year....
Texas IAF has thrown support behind Senate Bill 3, which would mandate weatherization under federal energy regulation guidelines. The bill passed on March 29 and now moves to the House. It would also impose penalties for noncompliance, increase coordination among state energy regulating bodies and create an emergency alert system.
"Our families have already suffered enough," said the Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith of St. John's Episcopal Church [of Central Texas Interfaith] in Austin. "They have paid more than their fair share of the cost for the mistakes of the energy industry and the unwillingness of the legislature to regulate the energy industry."
As legislation trudges through the legislature, the struggles continue across the state, members of The Metropolitan Organization said during the press conference. The budget strain of paying for repairs, they said, is especially felt by people living in apartments, whose landlords may not cover costs, as well as mobile home park residents and the elderly.
Pipes also burst at the home of Sorina Serrano, who is still waiting for repairs. A leader with The Metropolitan Organization Houston and member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Serrano said her home insurance coverage expired in March and other insurers have told her they won't cover the house until the repairs are made.
[Photo Credit: Isabelle Baldwin/CNS Photo]
After Texas' Winter Storm Disaster, Faith Leaders Press for Legislation to Ensure 'Never Again', Earthbeat- National Catholic Reporter
Oklahoma City religious and community leaders are raising questions about how power providers plan to recover an estimated $4.5 billion spent on fuel during February's severe winter storm.
Power providers spent so much in the wake of the storm, a customer who might normally see a $100 February bill could have seen a nearly $2,000 bill instead, with months of similar bills to follow.
Some legislators recently submitted plans to mitigate these costs over time, but leaders of the civic organization VOICE OKC want assurance the process won't pass unreasonable fuel costs on to consumers.
“If we as consumers are going to be asked to pay $4.5 billion, we deserve transparency,”
said Eric Jergensen, a VOICE member representing the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.
[Photo Credit: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Advocates Call For Transparent Investigations Into Cost Spikes, The Norman Transcript
[In photo above, Maria Magarin of San Juan Diego Catholic holds her six-month old son and evaluates the water damage sustained to her apartment in far northeast Dallas. Magarin lost hot water due to the Texas blackout and now, after her apartment sustained significant damage, fears that the mold growing on wet walls will make her young sons sick.]
Maria Magarin stomped on her gray carpet, to punctuate the fact that burst pipes have left her bedroom floor soggy, her apartment smelling of mold and a hallway wall so damp it bulges like a huge wet sponge. She said she feared her 6-month-old son would get sick.
“My apartment is a disaster,” the single mother of four said.
Josephine Lopez-Paul, the lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, has tried to help those most in need, usually immigrant women who are single heads of households. Emergency assistance funds from the Oakland-based Family Independence Initiative obtained before the storm meant Dallas Area Interfaith was able to distribute $500 checks in the middle of the freeze. The flow of money was held up for a few days because renters couldn’t get on computers without electricity.
“This is a disaster,” Lopez-Paul said.
[Photo Credit: Lynda M Gonzalez, Dallas Morning News]
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.
Texans did what they could in the dark. They filled hotels to capacity. Others found refuge in warming stations, sleeping on buses. Some who stayed home lit small fires to huddle around. Too many had no choice but to layer up and pray.
Adriana Godines [in photo at right] and her family in East Dallas went 40 hours without power. Her 10-year-old daughter, Andrea, woke up at night crying because she was cold.
“We were some of the lucky ones,” she said.
By Friday, power had been restored to nearly every Texan. But the state and its people were already facing the next disasters. Grocery store shelves are barren. Water, if it’s running, must be boiled in half the state. Homes, apartments and businesses are deluged.
Four feet of water flooded Friendship West Baptist Church’s resource center in southern Dallas, said the Rev. Frederick Haynes. The 30,000-square-foot building includes a food pantry and gently used clothing store.
“We’re trying to save as much as possible,” he said. “People are literally dying and suffering, who did not have to die and who did not have to suffer, if Texas had been responsible to regulate institutions that are supposed to keep us safe.”
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
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]
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
On a cloudy November day, EPISO/Border Interfaith celebrated the initiation of a $13 Million project that will provide 816 Montana Vista residents with water and wastewater services in a colonia far east of El Paso. El Paso Water Utilities publicly recognized the organization for its leadership in ensuring that residents have access to these essential services.
For years, Montana Vista felt like a forgotten community due to poverty, isolation and a lack of relationships with elected officials. Residents appealed to their then-priest at San Juan Diego Catholic for support in getting much needed basic streets, parks and wastewater services. A longtime leader and co-chair of EPISO, Father Ed Roden-Lucero and EPISO organizers worked with resident leaders, guiding them in their efforts to seek essential infrastructure.
Part of those efforts included community education about the Economically Distressed Areas Program, a program created in 1989 by EPISO/Border Interfaith and sister Texas IAF organizations to address lack of infrastructure in the colonias. That same year, EPISO/BI and Texas IAF organizations got out the vote to amend the Texas Constitution to provide the Texas Water Development Board $200 million dollars to issue grants and loans to install water and wastewater infrastructure in colonias and economically distressed areas. Since 1989, over $1 Billion dollars have been invested in colonias and economically distressed areas across Texas.
Change is coming to Montana Vista. In January, a long-fought for (and separately funded) road extension was newly opened, with four lanes, bike routes, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. Now, to community acclaim, El Paso Water is breaking ground for Phase 1 of its water and wastewater project -- scheduled for completion within 18 months.