Before the coronavirus pandemic thrashed the country, Maria Ramirez and her husband made plenty of money to afford their modest two-bedroom apartment in northeast Dallas.
Now they owe more than $4,000 in back rent and late fees.... They applied for aid without success.
With tens of thousands of similar stories across North Texas, housing advocates are worried that money set aside by the state and local governments to help people pay for housing is not reaching the most vulnerable....
What’s more, advocates are worried that millions of dollars will be sent back to Washington because local and state governments will not meet the Dec. 30 congressional deadline to spend the money.
"When people can't pay their rent, there are all sorts of consequences,´ said Josephine Lopez Paul, the lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a nonprofit that advocates for working families. "We should feel shame that we're not able to meet the tremendous amount of need in our city. It's becoming a shell game of shifting pots of money."
The interfaith group estimates as much as $20 million of the city's rental assistance programs, which first began in April, has not been spent."
"For four months, millions of these funds have wafted around the corridors of City Hall while each day vulnerable families are threatened with evictions," said Jon Lee, a retired pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church, demanding the city ease restrictions and get money to residents now.
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News]
The San Juan Diego Catholic Parish in northwest Dallas was a flurry of activity Saturday afternoon.
The nonpartisan political nonprofit is one of several groups in Dallas and across the state working to get Latinos to the polls. The goal is to boost candidates who are more likely to support progressive policies that would expand health care and police reform as well as establish drivers licenses for immigrants without documentation.
The group has targeted six statehouse races in North Texas where they hope to energize voters to pick candidates who support their agenda.
Margarito Garcia Jr., 32, is one of those volunteers making phone calls, despite the fact he cannot vote in this election. He lives in the U.S. under the DACA program, which was put in place by President Barack Obama to give young immigrants brought here as children the ability to remain in the country.
“A citizen isn’t someone who is born here, but someone who cares about the community they live in,” he said about his work in the political process.
When Latino voters come out, he said, it reminds candidates that they are part of this country.
“Latinos have a voice,” he said. “Politicians need to know that when they make decisions, we are important and that we exist.”
[Photo Credit: Jason Janik/Staff Contributor]
Latino Voters Could Make a Difference in National and North Texas Races, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
If you live in Travis or Harris counties, thanks to the governor, you might have to venture a lot farther to drop off your mail-in ballots for the upcoming election. By proclamation, Gov. Greg Abbott limited mail-in ballot drop-off locations to just one per county and is allowing parties to place poll watchers inside to keep an eye on the operation.
Julio Román, a Dallas resident, spent some of his Saturday passing out nearly a hundred voter registration cards to people in the city. He said he feels Abbott’s proclamation is just a ploy to suppress the vote.
Román is with Dallas Area Interfaith, a grassroots coalition focused on improving communities in the DFW area. Throughout the pandemic, the group has been helping immigrant communities pay their rent, conducting food drives and encouraging people to vote.
He said he thinks the proclamation will disproportionately affect the working class, as well as minority populations who live far away from their county’s only drop-off location.
This is why Jenkins said that it is imperative people make plans to vote. “Decide where, when, and how you will cast your ballot,” he said.
[Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
Dallas Catholic Bishop & North Texas Commission CEO: US Citizens Entitled to Stimulus Relief, Even When Married to Foreign Nationals
Jackie Gomez is a U.S. citizen and the mother of five kids from McKinney. She is married to a Mexican national. When she found out that she wasn’t eligible for a stimulus check, Gomez felt like it was “a slap in the face.”
Because of the economic downturn, Gomez has faced economic hardships, including not sending her oldest child to Collin Community College. When everyday Americans like Gomez can’t meet their basic needs, you can’t expect them to spend money on rent or utilities. They won’t be eating in restaurants, getting haircuts or buying new clothing, activities that stimulate our economy.
That is why, as faith and business leaders, we urge our Republican senators to end the unfair and immoral marriage penalty in the stimulus legislation by prioritizing the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act in the next federal coronavirus stimulus package.
Denying federal relief to mixed-status families is morally wrong. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was supposed to provide stimulus checks for all Americans with Social Security numbers. But a subtle change in federal tax law in 2017 requires both spouses in a marriage to have Social Security numbers, resulting in many Americans becoming ineligible for assistance because they are married to foreign nationals who are not U.S. citizens.
As a result of this careless oversight, 1.7 million U.S. citizens or green-card holders, along with their 3.7 million children, were left out of the stimulus package, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute. These are taxpayers who reported their earnings to our government and their exclusion is un-American to its core.
The American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., would fix this oversight by ensuring that every U.S. citizen and legal resident would receive $1,200 and each of their children would receive $500. According to TexasGOPVote, stimulus checks for the estimated 940,000 who were originally excluded in Texas would inject $508.2 million into our state’s economy.
Without steady employment and financial assistance needed due to the pandemic, many of these families could struggle to get back on their feet, increasing the likelihood of evictions, hunger and homelessness. Sen. John Cornyn has co-sponsored the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, and we ask Sen. Ted Cruz to do the same.
If Congress does not act, our state’s falling employment rate could creep back up, and our country’s recession could get worse. Families cannot wait much longer to pay their overdue rent and bills. We need Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to pass a CARES 2.0 stimulus package immediately.
Greg Kelly is the auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Dallas and a leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Chris Wallace is chief executive of the North Texas Commission and a co-chair of the Texas Business Immigration Coalition.
Under Trump, as Election Approaches, Almost 235,000 Fewer New Citizens Will be Sworn in This Fiscal Year
Margarita Juarez, originally from Mexico, became a U.S. citizen last year — and brought about a dozen family members and friends to her ceremony. Her celebrators even included her pastor and a volunteer with Dallas Area Interfaith, a nonpartisan group that pushes citizenship campaigns.
“It is so sad that people can’t participate in a ceremony that is so beautiful,” Juarez said of the pandemic restrictions on ceremonies.
She will vote for the first time Nov. 3. She says she is letting her faith in God assist with her election decision.
[Photo Credit: Ryan Michalesko/Dallas Morning News]
Dallas Morning News reporter, Dianne Solis, highlights her experience with Dallas Area Interfaith and DAI leader Fr. Jesus Belmontes of San Juan Diego Catholic Church.
SVP Dallas Workshop: Engaging the Media During COVID-19, Dallas Morning News
Tuesday’s memo comes as the Census Bureau begins outreach to the nation’s hardest-to-count groups, including immigrants. If the government is seen as trying to disadvantage them, some might be less likely to respond to the survey, immigrant advocates said.
“This is an order designed to sow fear and mistrust between peoples and becomes a matter of life and death as the US battles a deadly pandemic,” said a statement from the Industrial Areas Foundation, a group that works with churches and organizers in the West and Southwest to educate and support minority communities.
Soco[rro] Perales, an organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith, said that organizers will continue to encourage immigrant families to cooperate with the Census.
“That information cannot be shared” with immigration authorities, she said. “Everybody still needs to be counted and it is still safe.”
[Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images]
New Trump Order Excluding Non-Citizens From Census Could Cost Texas a Seat in Congress, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Statement on today's Executive Order, Industrial Areas Foundation
“When they want to ask for help from a nonprofit, and the staff only speaks English, they feel intimidated and don’t want to go on,” said Adriana Godines, a volunteer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a community group made up of religious congregations, schools and other nonprofits. “Even if I tell them that there will be no problem and they won’t ask for your Social Security, they prefer not to [ask for help].”
And even people who go to the justice of the peace courts, where eviction cases are heard, face similar hurdles.
“A lot of JP courts won’t have bilingual speakers,” said Lizbeth Parra-Davila, a housing fellow at the University of Texas School of Law. “Throughout Texas, that has been the case where I’ll call JP courts and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, we don’t have any Spanish speakers. We don’t have any Spanish interpreters.’”
Godines has seen homes with 12 people living together as people who self-evict move in with loved ones.
“It’s people of all ages. Kids, adults, sometimes senior citizens,” she said.
Godines has worked with families searching for rental assistance, and she said that funds are running low among nonprofit organizations that are allowed to serve undocumented immigrants.
“We want to do more, but we don’t have more resources,” Godines said. “But the little that we have in this community, we give it.”
Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas explained that many priests and churchgoers have pooled together resources to pay for rent and food for undocumented migrants. But he, too, worries how long such resources will last.
“I don’t think we know yet how serious this is or how long it will last. When the city assistance program opened, the help available was overwhelmed in the first couple of hours,” Kelly said. “It could be a very lengthy situation. There’s so much uncertainty.”
[Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang, The Texas Tribune]
DAI Raises Alarm That Undocumented Immigrants are Self-Evicting, Texas Tribune [pdf]
Exceeding their turnout goal by 50%, more than 1,500 leaders from Texas IAF organizations assembled online and in (socially distanced) watch parties to launch a Get Out The Vote drive, pledging to deliver 200,000 voters this fall to support a nonpartisan agenda for change.
Declared the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson, pastor of Abundant Life United Methodist Church and leader with TMO: "Here today are the prophets like Moses who are called to set the people free. Set them free from slave jobs, set them free from not having access to mental health for our adult and children, set them free from police brutality and set them free from inequality! The Texas IAF network is ready to take to the streets and sign up voters to our agenda of issues and March them to the polls starting October 19 for early voting through election day on November 3rd."
Bishops, clergy, lay leaders, and community leaders from 10 Texas IAF organizations ratified an agenda that includes COVID-19 recovery, workforce development, healthcare access, immigration, and police reform. Speakers included: Catholic Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller (Archdiocese of San Antonio), Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly (Diocese of Dallas), Rabbi Alan Freedman (Temple Beth Shalom in Austin), Danielle Alan of Harvard University, Paul Osterman of MIT, Luke Bretherton of Duke University, Charles Sabel of the Economic Policy Institute, and Teresa Ghilarducci and Richard McGahey of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
Similar statewide “Sign Up-Take Charge/Get Out The Vote” campaigns by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations have netted over $2 Billion in infrastructure funding for colonias along the border, tens of millions for workforce development for living wage jobs, over $50 Million for public school parent training and staff development, expansion of CHIP and Medicaid at the state level, and living wage measures in cities, counties, and school districts across the state.
Over the past three months Texas IAF organizations have focused on COVID-19 recovery, leveraging over $250,000,000 in rental/utility assistance and $100,000,000 in workforce development at the city and county levels, in addition to statewide and local moratoriums for utility cutoffs and evictions.
“We've won hundreds of millions in immediate COVID-19 economic relief, our organizations are now focusing on longer term workforce and economy recovery strategies brought about by the pandemic,” said Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith, a leader with St. Michael’s Episcopal and Central Texas Interfaith. “This includes long-term training for in-demand living wage jobs, reducing underlying health care disparities, and education investments like internet connectivity for students from low-income communities to bridge the digital divide.”
Leaders pledged to identify 5,700 leaders in house meetings and small group gatherings this summer and prepare them to each deliver 36 voters to the polls this fall.
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..."