When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith. The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.”
....As legislators met in a closed session to hammer out the bill, Greco heard from a colleague. “One of my organizers said there’s 20 oil and gas lobbyist standing outside this committee room,” he recalled.
Former Gov. Rick Perry, an Energy Transfer board member, tweeted his support for reauthorization. But as last week of the session ticked by, the bill didn’t come up. “It became clear that the reputation of the program had been damaged,” Greco said.
In 19 months, Texas’s subsidy program will expire, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
“We know there’s going to be a big conversation over the interim — we are under no illusions that this is not going to be a long-term battle.”
Organizers, though, recognize that the subsidy’s defeat marks a shift: “The table has been reset.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
How Skeptical Texas Lawmakers Put an End to a Controversial Tax Incentive Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
Three groups funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) strengthened their networks during the pandemic and developed innovative strategies that will likely persist after the virus is controlled....
“The pandemic has lifted a veil,” Josephine [Lopez-Paul] says. “The number of people who are living in poverty” is in our face, she says.
“The need is there. You can’t ignore it. Poverty is not a secret in our city anymore.”
She adds, “DAI’s approach is still rooted in relationship, and that hasn’t changed. Clergy and leaders have been there for one another as part of a community.”
DAI is an affiliate of the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). It has 33 congregational members with approximately 300 active leaders. DAI conducts weekly virtual meetings for clergy to share concerns and potential solutions. At one meeting early in the crisis, a pastor reported that half of 30 participants contracted COVID-19 after an unmasked choir practice. In response, celebrants of the weekly televised Mass from the diocesan cathedral began to use the final minute of the broadcast to urge compliance with masking and socialdistancing recommendations.
Like others, DAI has moved many activities, such as organizing and training programs, online. Josephine says this will continue beyond the pandemic, so that “imagination and vision” can be shared with isolated participants in rural areas, as well as with those who can attend in person.
[In photo: DAI Leaders and organizers meet with Dallas Police Commanders, including then-chief U. Renee Hall, following a meeting as DPD Headquarters.]
The Post-Pandemic Path Ahead, Catholic Campaign for Human Development
[Excerpt from Dallas Morning News]
Racial and economic disparities have marked all aspects of the pandemic, from the early testing site locations to the diverging infection and death rates.The process for getting a vaccine still heavily favors those who have a car and internet access — making community outreach crucial in underserved areas, said Rogelio Sáenz, a demographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has studied the pandemic’s effects on communities of color....
Jenny Zacarias, a Peruvian immigrant, said more must be done to reach Latino and Black communities. She was vaccinated recently after the age limits were lowered to 50.
“Bring the vaccines to the people,” said Zacarias, 51.
That will improve efficiency and raise trust, said Zacarias, who volunteers with Dallas Area Interfaith at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The group works with many undocumented immigrants, she said.
“They don’t trust the government.... Who do they trust? They trust the church.”
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]
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]
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]