Thanks to the intervention of Border Interfaith and EPISO, the City of El Paso just passed a wage raise for its lowest paid municipal workers in its budget — from $9.86 to $10.35. This is a first step in El Paso for a larger raise in upcoming years, part of a methodical campaign to raise the wages of Texas workers. EPISO & Border Interfaith additionally succeeded in compelling the El Paso County Commissioners to increase the wages of their lowest paid workers by 50 cents to $10 / hour. Commissioners pledged to work with the organization to increase wages higher over the next two years.Read more
EPISO and allies, including the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, celebrated the passage of a wage theft ordinance created in collaboration with city council, El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Leeser declared that El Paso will be "only the second city [in the state of Texas] to ever" enable the city to refuse to award contracts to employers who violated wage theft laws.
Over the next 60 days, EPISO and Border Interfaith leaders will work with the city to consider amendments potentially granting additional powers to refuse to grant, or revoke, permits and licenses to wage theft violators.
Border Interfaith & EPISO Leaders Punch Payday Lenders (Again) with $13M Alternative Lending Program
For the second time in one year, IAF organizations in El Paso (EPISO and Border Interfaith) dealt a harsh blow to the bottom line of payday lenders.
During last year's fight to restrict how much payday lenders can legally make off the backs of lower-income families, opponents from the lending industry couched their financial predation under the guise of "providing a valuable service" to residents. After winning a significant victory in 2014 limiting payday lending profits, leaders wanted more.
In financial literacy civic academies held in the poorest neighborhoods of El Paso, families revealed that when a tire blew, or a child got sick, they needed fast cash. They had the capacity to repay small loans, but were shut out of traditional consumer credit markets due to lack of income or credit.
In addition to securing half a million dollars to upgrade the Ruben Estrella Park in the Montana Vista colonia, leaders of EPISO went on to leverage an additional $4.5 Million to begin construction to extend Edgemere Boulevard from the City of El Paso into the unincorporated community.
The road will better allow residents from Montana Vista to better access the City of El Paso; Montana Vista is currently accessible by only one road.
Victorious from a January move to limit payday lending profitability in El Paso, leaders of Border Interfaith and El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) are setting their sights on statewide legislation. Eloiso De Avila, co-chair of EPISO, said more state regulation is needed because many Texans live in places without ordinances like the one they won in El Paso. The state legislation that failed last year would have pegged the maximum allowable loan to a borrower’s monthly income and capped the number of times a borrower could refinance a loan.
"The people who go to the payday lenders are already at the end of their rope,' argued De Avila. "We realize there’s a need, but God, don’t gouge them."
Thousands Lose Cars Amid Calls for Loan Restrictions, Texas Tribune
Bishops and clergy from religious institutions of El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) and Border Interfaith are calling for additional protection of the tens of thousands unaccompanied Central American children that are at the Texas border.
In a press conference in El Paso, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz reviewed a letter signed by hundreds of clergy, and addressed to the President and to Congress, detailing specific recommendations regarding the treatment of unaccompanied children at the border. Clergy leaders want the White House to preserve the protections established in the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Act of 2008 for those that arrive on our border seeking refuge, provision of legal assistance to any minor under 18 years of age, and attention to the religious needs of the children and family by granting clergy access to US Border Patrol detention facilities and the US Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Border Interfaith and EPISO leaders emphasized that Congress must reject efforts to expedite processing of these children. [Photo Credit: Juan Torres, El Diario]
The same week Project ARRIBA celebrated its 1,000th graduate, leaders received word that the labor market intermediary won a Texas Innovative Adult Career Education (ACE) grant, giving it half a million dollars to train 300 more El Paso Community College students for living wage careers. EPISO and Border Interfaith, with their sister organizations in the Texas IAF, helped establish the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education grant to support projects that prepare low-income workers to attain degrees and certificates in high demand occupations including nursing and information technology.Read more
In advance of the early March election for County judge and Commissioner positions, leaders of EPISO and Border Interfaith organized an accountability session to challenge them on issues that emerged hundreds of conversations with their constituents.
The El Paso Times reports the following: "El Paso County judge candidates took different stances Sunday on two key issues, funding Project Arriba and early voting at churches, during the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith Joint Accountability Session. The accountability session took place at All Saints Catholic Church for candidates for county judge, county commissioner for precincts 2 and 4, and state representatives for districts 75, 76 and 77...."
[Photo Credit: Victor Calzada, El Paso Times]
Leaders of EPISO and Border Interfaith leveraged enough City Council votes to restrict how much payday lenders can make off low-income families. Lobbyists flew in from Dallas and Austin to fight this ordinance, but this did not keep the council from heeding the organized voice of families and institutions, and voting 6-1 in support. Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso supported these efforts to protect families from compounding debt and excessive fees.
The new payday lending reform in El Paso allows lenders to loan no more than 20% of a borrower’s gross income. Contracts must now be presented in the person’s dominant language and short-term loans cannot be rolled over more than three times.
With 160 payday lending centers in El Paso, leaders are now working with the City to examine whether to restrict how many payday lenders can set up shop in low-income neighborhoods.
Citing evidence that the regional return on investment for Project ARRIBA‘s workforce development is $26 for every $1 invested, the City Council of El Paso voted to increase funding to $1.5 Million over five years, rather than the $1.25 Million initially recommended by city staff. This is the single largest investment the city has made into ARRIBA since its inception.
This funding will enable the project to support the training and placement of 600 El Pasoans into living wage careers in the border region. Organization leaders are hopeful that this will help leverage matching funds from the State of Texas through the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education (ACE) Grant Program.
[In photo: Leaders from EPISO, Border Interfaith and Project ARRIBA explain what happened to reporters.]