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
….[t]he Network of Texas IAF Organizations – a nonpartisan coalition of mostly faith-based organizations that represents more than one million people — and The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, held a virtual press conference April 12 to support approval of State Senate Bill 3, mandating weatherization under federal energy regulation guidelines.
They are calling for the costs to be covered by power producers and energy generators as well as through the state’s $10 billion “rainy day” fund. The bill passed in the Senate on March 29 and now moves to the House that heard testimony but has not taken a vote. It would also impose penalties for non-compliance, increase coordination among state energy regulating bodies and create an emergency alert system.
Faith organizations also called for establishing a $2 billion fund to help families pay for home and apartment repairs and for consumer advocates to be appointed to all state energy and utility boards.
Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston director of the Secretariat for Social Concerns, said, “Never again – the damage that this past storm inflicted on families should never happen again because of lack of preparation by the state.”
“People are still suffering and can’t make repairs on their own homes. It’s criminal not to help. The community, including the State Legislature, needs to support one another,” she said.
....Since many lost wages or jobs because of the pandemic, they remain living with mold in their homes from busted pipes and filling bathtubs with water, DeLeon described. The ministry, with limited funds, can help each family only once every six months, she said. “This is only a temporary fix. The community’s problems are much bigger.”
[Photo Credit: Catholic News Service /Callaghan O'Hare, Reuters]
With Hurricane Season Looming, Families Still Suffer from Winter Storm, The Arch-Diocese of Galveston [pdf]
TMO Leaders Demand State Legislators Weatherize Power Grid, Provide Relief for Families Struggling with Repairs
The virtual press conference was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations — a nonpartisan coalition of 10 primarily faith-based organizations across the state that represents more than 1 million people — and The Metropolitan Organization, a Houston-based civic group, to keep public attention on the aftermath of the widespread power outages that occurred earlier this year.
Bob Fleming, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization, an affiliate of Texas IAF, added that the "almost relaxed response" to the disaster, including from Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, has faith leaders worried, especially as their congregations continue to suffer in the aftermath. They had hoped that a plan to provide people relief would be up and running by now, but "no such luck," he said.
"We are trying to get legislators who are busy to concentrate on this matter — to understand the magnitude of the failure, not to minimize it, and to let them know we don't intend to forget," Fleming said.
Texas IAF has thrown support behind Senate Bill 3, which would mandate weatherization under federal energy regulation guidelines. The bill passed on March 29 and now moves to the House. It would also impose penalties for noncompliance, increase coordination among state energy regulating bodies and create an emergency alert system.
"Our families have already suffered enough," said the Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith of St. John's Episcopal Church in Austin. "They have paid more than their fair share of the cost for the mistakes of the energy industry and the unwillingness of the legislature to regulate the energy industry.
"As legislation trudges through the legislature, the struggles continue across the state, members of The Metropolitan Organization said during the press conference. The budget strain of paying for repairs, they said, is especially felt by people living in apartments, whose landlords may not cover costs, as well as mobile home park residents and the elderly.
Pipes also burst at the home of Sorina Serrano, who is still waiting for repairs. A leader with The Metropolitan Organization Houston and member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Serrano said her home insurance coverage expired in March and other insurers have told her they won't cover the house until the repairs are made.
After Texas' Winter Storm Disaster, Faith Leaders Press For Legislation to Ensure 'Never Again', Earthbeat-National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
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.
Pastor John D. Ogletree reflected Thursday evening that it had been a sad day in Houston, and a somber one. Four city police officers were fired that day for their roles in the April 21 death of Nicolas Chavez, in an incident captured on police video that was finally made public after months of calls, from activists, to “release the tapes.”
But as Ogletree noted Thursday evening, at the beginning of an online summit on justice coordinated by The Metropolitan Organization of Houston and the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Chavez’ death wasn’t an isolated incident.
“Chavez was the first of six killed by HPD officers during a two-month stretch, April and May,” Ogletree said. “All of these were men of color who were killed....”
“The cry now across the nation is for justice,” Ogletree continued. “Since May, there has been a heightened sense of rage, desperation, and resolve to shift the way policing is done in America.”
That’s certainly true, and it’s the best reason to feel optimistic about the prospects for police reform in Houston, at least....
Grieder: Push for Police Reform Shouldn’t be Scuttled in Favor of Partisan Politics, Houston Chronicle [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.
"Because of language barriers, Texas risks leaving some of the state’s marginalized communities even more vulnerable to contracting the virus while making it more difficult to access resources needed to get through the pandemic...."
"We have to be informed because we are the most vulnerable," [Maria] Ramirez explains.
The information Ramirez has gotten throughout the pandemic has mostly been through her own efforts seeking it out and through the community groups she was already involved with. Ramirez's church sends out information to congregants, as does The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a local nonprofit of which she is a member.
[Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar, Texas Tribune]
In a 3-2 vote at a special meeting, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court passed a budget for how to spend $134.3 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
TMO-Fort Bend clergy and judicatory leaders from Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran and Islamic congregations testified at multiple hearings, including Rev. John Strader of Heritage Baptist Church who called on the county "consider its faith leaders and organizations as a resource to help....[we'll] help with seeing the true issues of our county to be addressed by the CARES Act funds." As a result, 6,500 Fort Bend families will receive $1,500/mo for rent, utility and food assistance.
"Rev. David Lee Sincere Jr. with Fort Bend Transformation Church, Advocacy Now Institute and The Metropolitan Organization was one of several county residents and officials who spoke at Commissioners Court about the need for rental, mortgage and utility assistance. He said he has received a number of phone calls, emails and stories from residents who require help."
Leaders are also calling on the county to "enact a countywide rent moratorium that would help those directly affected by...this emergency.”
[Photo Credit: Screenshot via Fort Bend County]
Fort Bend County OKs Budget For Distributing $134M CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
George Joins Others In Asking State To Extend Eviction Moratorium, Fort Bend Herald [pdf]
Fort Bend County To Host Workshop On Distributing $134M In CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
Fort Bend County Launches $19.5M Rental Assistance Program June 1, Community Impact[pdf]
Seven [commissioners], plus the one Mayor Turner spoke to, said they plan to postpone eviction hearings until June. That’s great news to Mesias Pedroza, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), who today was helping to pack meals for families with meals.
“Just right now we’re preparing for service giving food supplies to families and they come and say ‘hey we need help with rent. We can not pay for rent. We don’t have a job. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?” Pedroza said.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,286 evictions pending in Harris County. Since March 18, 1,591 have been filed, according to data collected by January Advisers.
On Tuesday, TMO sent a letter to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo asking her to extend the moratorium on evictions which expired May 19. Judge Hidalgo has said that’s not in her power but she and county commissioners have allocated $30 million to help struggling families with relief.
“At TMO we believe they have the legal basis to do so because other counties have done so,” Pedroza countered. “There is ample discretion because the Texas Supreme Court they have said eviction orders may resume it doesn’t say that it shall resume.
[Photo Credit: KPRC Click 2 Houston]
Houston Mayor’s Tweet Sparks Optimism to Families Facing Evictions, Click 2 Houston [pdf]
Editorial: What Houston must do to avoid eviction disaster Houston Chronicle [pdf]
HOUSTON — The $15 million meant to help Houstonians pay rent is already gone. The money dried up in less than 90 minutes....
The Metropolitan Organization was hosting two application clinics this morning to help families without internet access apply. Large crowds waited in line starting at 5 a.m. Because of the issues with the site many families weren't able to apply before it was shut down.
"They designed a system to give away $15 million quickly and yes it was a success they gave away $15 million, but did it get to the people with the greatest need, I question that," said Joe Higgs, Executive Director of TMO.
As many as 30,000 tried to access the website, an indication of the need for rent relief in the wake of COVID-19, which has led to business shutdowns and skyrocketing unemployment. Housing advocates have said the money does not go far enough in helping renters.
Houston's $15 Million Rental Assistance Program Fills Up In 90 Minutes, Houston Chronicle
Houston's $15 Million In Rent Assistance Runs Out In Just Two Hours, Click To Houston [pdf]