About 1 million Texans don’t have home access to broadband, a state report found last summer.
The pandemic made Texas’ already gaping digital divide much more challenging, which had lawmakers pledging to close that gap. Gov. Greg Abbott named expanding broadband access one of his priority items at the beginning of session, and last week two omnibus bills gained traction when they each were unanimously voted out of their House and Senate committees.
About 15% of households in metropolitan areas don’t have access to broadband data plans, he said, and the problem can’t just be solved with infrastructure. Families also struggle with affordability and gaps in digital literacy.
It’s important to include “regular people” in the discussion process for these plans, said Josephine López Paul, the lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of congregations, schools and nonprofits. López Paul, who helps organize advocates around issues in their Dallas County communities, has noticed that many are still grappling with the same internet challenges as they were at the start of the pandemic.
“They need to do some bottom-up listening and not just assume they have a plan that’s going to work with people,” López Paul said. “They can put broadband structures in areas and if people don’t know that it’s there or that they need it … it’s just going to be a wasted effort.”
In recent hearings that drew overwhelmingly positive feedback from nonprofit advocates, school leaders and internet service providers, one lawmaker emphasized the bills aren’t a foolproof solution on their own.
[Photo Credit: Lola Gomez/DMN Staff Photographer]
Texas' Push to Expand Broadband Access Gains Traction, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
It wasn’t that she didn’t try to get the vaccine. María Gilberta Reyna had attempted to register through a Dallas hospital’s online application, but she never managed to make it work.
“I would put my information but the site would throw me back to the initial page,” Reyna, who is a Mexican immigrant, said in Spanish....
Hispanics in Texas have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Not only they are the ethnic group with the largest share of COVID-19 related deaths — they represent just under 40% of the state population yet more than 46% of the deaths linked to the virus — but they’ve also been severely impacted by the economic disruptions during the pandemic, particularly in the service industry and other blue collar jobs.
Leslie Armijo, a member of the organization Don't Wait to Vaccinate who helped run the registration event at the Dallas grocery store on Friday, said lower income people have bigger hurdles in getting vaccinated....But one of the biggest problems Armijo and others have seen as they try to help Hispanic and Black Texans get vaccinated is a lack of trust in government. Gonzales said that the rhetoric and immigration policies of former president Donald Trump eroded some people’s trust in government, especially undocumented people. Many remain concerned about giving any personal information to government agencies at any level.
“They have to bring the vaccines into churches and other institutions that they trust in, because there’s so much fear of the government,” said Josephine Lopez Paul, lead organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith. “They’ve partnered with us in the past for health fairs, but now the thing that is holding things up is the vaccine supply.”
[Photo Credit: Carly May/Texas Tribune]
As federal officials announced that a downtown Dallas facility had been chosen to house up to 3,000 migrant teenagers starting the week of March 15, the Catholic faithful in the Diocese of Dallas sprang into action to help....
In addition to Catholic Charities Dallas, other nonprofits, churches and interfaith groups have reached out to offer support, including the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugees Services and Dallas Area Interfaith.
Josephine Lopez-Paul, lead organizer for the interfaith group, said volunteers from several parishes in Dallas who have received training as community leaders from Dallas Area Interfaith, will be essential volunteers, helping interview young people, making contact with their families inside the United States and knowing relevant details of each case.
“Parish leaders are vital in this situation,” Lopez-Paul said. “These are people who have followed a prior training process, who speak the native language of the teens arriving and have in order the documentation required by the Diocese of Dallas in relation to safe environment policies.”
Texas parishes such as St. Luke in Irving, Mary Immaculate in Farmers Branch and San Juan Diego in Dallas were among those mentioned by Lopez-Paul as the most helpful volunteer sources at this time.
“These are churches where the Central American community is more present,” Lopez-Paul said. “They are leaders who know the immigration dynamics because many have personally experienced it and have been trained to serve their community.”
In addition to the Catholic Church, Lopez-Paul said she is working with the Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, plus Jewish communities, whose leaders also have received training from Dallas Area Interfaith in the past.
“This is a coordinated effort for the good of a community that has experienced many difficulties and deserves respect and help,” Lopez-Paul said.
[Photo Credit: Adrees Latif, Reuters/CNS Photo]
Dallas Area Interfaith, a non-partisan group, made up of multiple religious congregations in the metroplex, is on standby to provide translation services per Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez Paul.
The organization is searching congregations, mostly Catholic congregations, for bilingual volunteers in the metroplex who can talk to the children and get them moving towards the next immigration steps.
"We sprung into action," Lopez Paul said. "Right now, we have 88 volunteers secured who have to undergo background checks and are hoping to get 200."
One of the volunteers, Angelica Montanez, spoke with WFAA.
"It's a guiding process," Montanez said, who is an immigrant herself from Mexico. "It's a friendly face that can speak your language and help you out."
[Do you want to volunteer? Click here.]
Speedy Placement With Family Critical for Teenage Migrants, NBC News [video] [pdf]
U.S. to House Up to 3,000 Immigrant Teens at Dallas Convention Center, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Immigrant Teens Arrive At Temporary Shelter In Dallas, KERA News [pdf]
[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]
Bishops Greg Kelly and Daniel E. Flores Call for Accountability to Prevent Future Failures in the Electrical Grid
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.”
[Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Dallas Morning News]
DAI & Texas IAF Declare State Power Failure 'Act of Sheer Negligence,' Accountability by Elected Officials Demanded
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...
[In photo DAI Leader Adriana Godines shares concern about being "another statistic" during the winter storm.]
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
“We don’t have control over the virus, the economy, our electricity. But a deep belief in other people can get you through a lot,” Lopez Paul said....
The series of crises has reaffirmed the need for togetherness, said Lopez Paul, the lead organizer for the Dallas Area Interfaith, a nonprofit that organizes church organizations for progressive policy changes.
“People are surviving day by day — sometimes hour by hour,” she said. “The one thing that has gotten us though this is the sense of community.”
The Rev. Joshua Whitfield of St. Rita Catholic Church has performed too many funerals since the pandemic hit North Texas. Yes, the majority of people he has buried are older, but they’re still dying too young.
“The sadness is real,” he said. “I sense there have been a lot of early exits.”
But in the coronavirus’s wake, he’s seen a renewed sense of fellowship.
“People have stepped up and served others,” he said. “And that’s been really sustaining to me.”
Whitfield canceled 6:45 a.m. Mass on Monday. However, the church has served as a vital communication hub, he said, and that didn’t stop with the storm. He personally texted parishioners who never miss a daily Mass, sharing his decision to temporarily close the church.
“The genuinely faithful older people I don’t want getting in the car,” he said.
Turn to prayer and silence. Laugh. Especially at yourself, he said.
“Hopefully this week will melt at some point.”
[Photo Credit: Lola Gomez, Dallas Morning News]
While some communities have allocated a significant share of CARES Act funds for rental assistance, Dallas has not. Housing advocates have criticized the city for complicating the application process for receiving aid. About 1 in 4 of the people who said they needed help were successful, according to the Dallas Morning News.
For months advocates in Dallas have pushed officials to distribute rental assistance funds and expand the Centers for Disease Control moratorium on evictions. Dallas Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly has worked with CCHD-funded Dallas Area Interfaith on the effort.
"It's very harmful," Bishop Kelly said of the restrictions on accessing the money. "There's no need for it either. The funds are there."
Josephine Lopez Paul, lead organizer of Dallas Area Interfaith, said work continues on empowering and educating people about eviction prevention in the hope their voices will influence policymakers to better respond to their needs.
[Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]