In advance of May primary runoff elections, TMO organized two nonpartisan accountability sessions with over 300 leaders in West Houston (with candidates for Texas House District 133; US House District 34 and five Spring Branch ISD Board positions) and in the Third Ward (with run-off candidates for Texas House District 147 and the State Board of Education seat representing the Eastern half of Harris County).
Leaders committed to encouraging voter participation by through phone calls, neighborhood walks and institutional announcements.
Organized by The Metropolitan Organization of Houston (TMO), 123 participants were joined by Bishop Italo Dell'Oro of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston for a two-day 'Recognizing the Stranger' training. Ministry leaders from 21 parishes of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston participated, as did leaders from the Diocese of Beaumont.
Recognizing the Stranger training equips immigrant parish leaders with the skills needed to make connections within immigrant communities and with non-immigrant allies, applying the tools of organizing to address issues facing their congregations and communities.
Training sponsors include the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Mission & Ministry Impact, Gulf Coast Leadership Council and the Organizers Institute.
In photo at right, Bishop Italo Dell-Oro recognizes TMO for teaching ministry leaders listening skills through house meetings, particularly with people on the periphery.
Following an opposition campaign by Texas IAF organizations, Comptroller Glenn Hegar is backing away from his proposal to gut Chapter 313 reporting and accountability requirements in the program’s final year of existence. Hegar signaled the change Friday after significant pushback by Chapter 313 critics, including a press conference held by Texas IAF organizations in December, and a barrage of public comments submitted to his office against the proposal, with the largest portion coming from Texas IAF leaders.
During the 2021 Legislative Session, the Texas IAF, along with allies, stopped the reauthorization of Chapter 313, the State’s largest corporate tax subsidy program. Though the current program, which costs taxpayers $1-2 Billion per year, is set to expire in December of 2022, Comptroller Hegar had proposed in November to reduce the reporting requirements on jobs, wages, and overall costs to taxpayers.
“Comptroller Hegar has recognized the voices of voters from across the political spectrum, including our organizations, and now says the data we are concerned will continue to be available,” said Bob Fleming, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization, the IAF affiliate in Houston. “However, we remain vigilant because he says the rules will still be revised and made ‘more efficient’. Given the history of this failed and discontinued program, we need even more transparency and accountability, not less.”
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle]
Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Press Release
Texas IAF Calls On State Comptroller to Abandon Plan to Gut Chapter 313 Subsidy Accountability Requirements
"Lawmakers have ordered Comptroller Glenn Hegar to wrap up Texas’s biggest corporate tax break program, but he wants to give companies one last gift: an end to public accountability.
Activists, corporate relocation specialists and lawmakers are scrambling to comment on Hegar’s proposal that companies no longer report key data about their progress toward meeting the terms of their property tax abatement agreements.
Interfaith groups that fought the corporate giveaway that hurts Texas children demanded Hegar roll back his plan on Wednesday.
“What is the benefit of less accountability and less transparency?” San Antonio state Senator José Menéndez asked at a Texas Industrial Areas Foundation press conference. “The taxpayer should know how their money is going to be used and what they are getting in exchange.”
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan, San Antonio Express News]
Texas Comptroller Proposes Covering Up Corporate Welfare Program, The Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Network of Texas IAF Organizations, along with Public Officials, Hold Press Conference to Call on Comptroller Hegar to Abandon Attempt to Gut Chapter 313 Transparency and Accountability, Texas IAF, Texas IAF
Taylor: The Chapter 313 Monster — the Mother of All Corporate Welfare — Revives?, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
In collaboration the Harris County Pubic Health Department and leaders from St. Leo the Great and Our Lady of Grace Catholic Churches, TMO brought over 790 vaccines to overlooked neighborhoods in unincorporated and low-income areas of Harris County.
In Aldine, within the county borders, this collaboration was particularly important for parishioners and neighbors of St. Leo the Great Catholic parish, where over 690 people received their first vaccine dose over two events in August.
In South Houston, leaders from Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church encouraged parishioners to get vaccinated through a combination of pulpit announcements, flyers and after-mass signups.
Said Sylvia Soria, the church secretary of Our Lady of Grace:
“Our parish membership is 99% Latino. Many of our families are working families that can not take time off during the week to get the vaccine across the other side of town. We’re glad to work with TMO, GCLC, and Harris County Health Department to bring the COVID-19 vaccine on a Saturday to our community.”
Jornada de Vacunación en Ciudad con Gran Población Hispana, Telemundo [en español]
The one-on-one approach to persuasion isn’t necessarily the most efficient, but it may be the most effective for the vaccine holdouts who have resisted every other large-scale push....
We know it can work because it already has.
One group out there doing the intensive, small-scale work to raise vaccination rates is the Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders Coalition, [an expansion project of TMO] based in Beaumont. Six team members told the editorial board last week that their community, like so many, is awash in vaccine conspiracies. Coordinator Mary Scott said the group has been going directly to apartment complexes with accurate vaccine information, and got approval from some Beaumont businesses to engage with customers about their vaccination drives. The grassroots team got 88 people vaccinated two weekends ago through churches and other centers....
Lamar University student [and TMO organizer] Ricky Mendoza said conversations with Hispanic community members revealed concerns about fertility and the vaccine, which numerous health experts have debunked. (And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a strong recommendation recently that pregnant women should get vaccinated.)
Mendoza said he’s finding that one-on-one conversations with people, in English and in Spanish, are slowly changing minds.
[Photo Credit: Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders]
Coalition Brings Vaccines to Beaumont Residents in At-Risk Areas, Beaumont Enterprise [pdf]
Putting Our Faith & Commitment to Democracy in Action, Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders
While homeowners impacted by the pandemic were largely shielded by measures enacted by the federal government to ease them back into their mortgage payments, tenants who have fallen behind on rent are receiving more piecemeal assistance. Tens of thousands of area residents could qualify for up to a year of past-due rent payments from the city and county, plus two months more to give them time to regain their financial footing, if they seek it out.
But many do not know the Houston-Harris County program exists....
“There have been times when we’ve canvassed when it’s been nothing but eviction notices on doors,” said Jennifer Hernandez, a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. She and other members of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation have knocked and posted flyers on more than 40,000 homes.
Partnering with the Eviction Defense Coalition and Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation are groups including The Metropolitan Organization, Constable’s Offices, the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia’s offices, BakerRipley and Catholic Charities, which have hosted large application events in the area so renters can have someone guide them through the process in person.
[Photo Credit: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle]
Churches in Brazoria County, with its county seat being in Angleton, are helping residents still hurting from the pandemic’s financial fallout to apply for rental assistance through a recent $11.3 million federal grant, community leaders say.
The monies became available June 14 after Church and community leaders met with Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta earlier in the spring. They specifically asked him how they could help distribute the funds so it wouldn’t be sent back to the federal government as had been considered.
A contingency of three Catholic priests, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) nonprofit and other church groups, including Grace Episcopal, met with the county judge back in March.
“We let the county judge know that we have volunteers to help with the paperwork and we have those in dire need of assistance,” said Sister Maureen O’Connell, director of the Secretariat for Social Concerns.
“Poor and vulnerable people trust the Church more. So this collaboration between government and Church groups is a wonderful opportunity to help them,” she said.
[Photo Credit: Catholic News Service]
$11.3 Million Approved for Brazoria County Residents Struggling With Rent in Pandemic, Texas Catholic Herald
The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), an organization of institutions dedicated to developing power and leadership among citizens in order to transform the city, praised the bishop-elect’s efforts with the Hispanic community.
“Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro understood the importance of the 2020 Census and encouraged the faithful across the Archdiocese to complete it,” said TMO’s Ana Guerrero Cummings. “He opened the door with clergy for TMO leaders and organizers to educate and encourage people in 25 parishes to complete the Census. He made a big difference in promoting the Census in a very challenging year.”
The bishop-elect created a PSA video in Spanish explaining the importance, safety and confidentiality of the 2020 Census. He encouraged everyone to participate so all communities would be fairly represented by elected officials and funding properly allocated to our communities to meet the real needs of communities.
“Bishop-Elect Dell‘Oro has a passion for inviting and including immigrants and those on the margins into the full life of our parishes and community,”
TMO Organizer Joe Higgs said. “He has a warm and welcoming heart that inspires people to love and have confidence in the Church and their own ability to take action on behalf of their family and community.”
The Bishop-Elect’s involvement with TMO began when he became pastor of Assumption Church in 1992. He developed a team of both English- and Spanish-speaking leaders to work together for the parish.
Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro was also actively working with TMO to organize non-partisan Candidate Accountability Sessions where candidates running for office were presented with the TMO agenda of issues. He wanted people to know what was going on and to be informed about issues as they prepared to vote.
“My husband George Zuckero and I were leaders with TMO at the time and together with Bishop-Elect Italo, we worked to build up a diverse team of leaders at Assumption,” said TMO’s Damiana Zuckero, Assumption Catholic Church. “He is a perfect choice for bishop. He is a wonderful and holy priest.”
[Photo Credit: Texas Catholic Herald]
New Auxiliary Bishop Has Deep Ties with Hispanic Community, Texas Catholic Herald
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