DAI Confronts Texas' Energy, Politics and Culture

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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]

'They Were Not Prepared': After Winter Crisis, Texas Will Have to Confront its Energy, Politics, and Culture, Dallas Morning News [pdf]

 


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]

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Says Lawmakers Must Require Weatherization of Power Plants - And Pay For ItDallas Morning News [pdf]

Power Crisis Puts Texas Small-Government Policy Choices in the Spotlight, NBC News

Press Conference FootageFacebook Live


As North Texas Freezes, DAI Pulls Community Together

“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]

Neighbors Helping Neighbors: Record Cold is the Latest Challenge That Has Forced North Texans to Pull Together, Dallas Morning News [pdf]  


With Evictions Looming, DAI Fights to Keep People Housed

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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]

With Evictions Looming, Agencies Furiously Work to Keep Families Housed, Angelus News [pdf]


Dallas Area Interfaith Sounds Alarm on Unspent Millions in Rental Aid

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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]

North Texas Has Millions in Unspent Aid For Renters During the Pandemic, Yet 75% of Applicants are Denied, Dallas Morning News [pdf]


DAI Targets Latino Voters in North Texas House and Congressional Districts

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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]


DAI Registers Voters, Works to Increase Voter Participation

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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]

Abbott's Limits on Drop-off Locations for Mail-In Ballots Won't Affect Dallas County Directly, Dallas Observer [pdf]


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.

All U.S. Citizens Are Entitled To Stimulus Relief, Even If They Are Married To Foreign Nationals, Dallas Morning News [pdf]


Under Trump, as Election Approaches, Almost 235,000 Fewer New Citizens Will be Sworn in This Fiscal Year

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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]

Under Trump, As Election Approaches, Almost 235,000 Fewer New Citizens Will Be Sworn In This Fiscal Year, Dallas Morning News [pdf]


Dallas Morning News Reporter Highlights COVID-19 Relief Effort

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