Thursday, March 12th was the first day 2020 Census information arrived in mailboxes. It was also the day I had hoped to send this email. With the COVID-19 crisis, however, my attention shifted to ensuring that the people of District 101 have the information and resources they need during this uncertain time.
It’s hard to believe that was just over two weeks ago. It feels like so much has changed in such a short amount of time and we’re nowhere near seeing the full impact that this virus will have on our communities. What we do know is that many in our state will need help and that we will need to find every available resource to meet those needs. The Census is instrumental to us getting the resources Texas needs.
Texas’ census count will determine whether our state receives its share of about $675 billion in annual federal dollars for critical items such as transportation, hospitals, social services, education, and much, much more. Missing just 1% of our state’s population in our count would reduce that amount by nearly $300 million each fiscal year.
Our census count directly impacts our state’s children. If Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Head Start, school lunch programs, childcare, and other programs are not properly funded, Texas children will be hurt.
Our census count will help shape districts to determine representation in Washington, DC and in our state capitol. Plus, due to population growth, Texas stands to gain at least two more seats in Congress and two more electoral votes.
I suspect that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already made it a priority to complete your 2020 Census. Thank you for doing your part. After you complete the questionnaire, I ask you to make sure that others do as well.
Who in Texas is more likely to be undercounted?
Children. Our state ranked #1 in undercounting kids during the 2010 Census. It is estimated that 102,406 children aged 0-4 weren’t reported. In Tarrant County, 6,800 children were missed, the majority of whom were Latino.
People of color. Earlier this month, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported about fears in the Latino community related to the 2020 Census. In the story, they quoted Mireya Flores, a Fort Worth mother, who said, “I have family members that don’t have any papers. I don’t trust that they are not going to use it against us.”
Although this political stunt was ultimately blocked by the courts, the Trump Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census will still contribute to mistrust within communities of color.
Renters. One-in-three Texans are renters, and the transient nature of renting makes it even more difficult to ensure that renters are counted.
Low-income Texans. Texas is home to the largest number of residents living in poverty, with over 4 million people living at or below the federal poverty level and another 5 million-plus living just above.
Unfortunately, Republicans in the Legislature failed to provide state resources for an accurate count. In contrast, California is spending $187 million on Census outreach — an investment that will ensure Californians receive their fair share of federal dollars and representation.
As a result of our state’s inaction, cities, counties, school districts, and other organizations are having to fill the gaps to ensure that everyone is counted and that they receive the resources they need. With the current COVID-19 crisis, these organizations, their budgets, and their capacity have been strained – making the gaps even more difficult to fill.
Before COVID-19 precautions were put in place, Census workers were scheduled to start knocking on doors, hosting events, and reaching out to those hard-to-count populations. Now that’s delayed.
I know that we are all trying to find ways to help one another out during this difficult time. One way is to help make sure that every Texan is counted.
Please talk to your family, friends and neighbors and remind them to go online and complete the 2020 Census. It may be more important this year than it ever has been before.
First off, I hope you and your family are healthy, safe and staying at home as much as possible.
These are difficult and uncertain times, with information changing at what seems like a lightning-fast pace. Over the course of the past few weeks, my staff and I have been in daily communication with state and local officials about the COVID-19 crisis and doing all we can to keep the residents of District 101 updated.
To follow is some key information regarding the state and local response, as well as resources for those in need of help and for those willing to help. This is not an exhaustive list, and more COVID-19 information and resources may be found on my website by clicking here.
LOCAL RESPONSE TO COVID-19: Stay Home!
On Tuesday, Tarrant County and the cities of Arlington and Fort Worth instituted stay-at-home orders. As the strain on our medical facilities and health care providers increases, this was a critical step to slow the spread of the virus. I commend Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price for their leadership and for making this hard, but prudent decision that will save lives. I also thank my mayor, Ron Jensen of Grand Prairie, for his leadership and working with both Dallas and Tarrant Counties on these orders.
The orders require residents to remain at their homes unless they are engaging in “essential activities,” such as shopping for groceries, getting gas, visiting a pharmacy or picking up food or merchandise from a business. Businesses deemed “non-essential” are closed to the public or must operate on a pick-up/take-out only model. To view the entire order, click here.
Employees who work in “essential businesses” or government are permitted to travel to their work location, if necessary.
Additionally, gatherings outside of a single household are prohibited. Everyone is allowed — and encouraged — to go outdoors for exercise and fresh air; just maintain a distance of at least six feet from others.
These rules, which cover all of District 101, are in effect through at least April 7th.
To ensure that children in our community have access to nutritious meals, local school districts, including Arlington and Mansfield ISDs are providing food for any child 18 years old or younger. There is no requirement that the child attend an AISD or MISD school. For more information and locations, click here.
STATE RESPONSE TO COVID-19
The same day Tarrant County, Arlington, Fort Worth, and several other communities across Texas implemented stay-at-home orders, I spearheaded the effort to have the House Democratic Caucus, which I chair, call on Governor Greg Abbott to issue a statewide stay-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed in a matter of weeks. Doing so would also provide consistency across the state. To read the letter, click here.
Additionally, the Dallas Morning News has a good summary of our efforts here. Unfortunately, Gov. Abbott has so far declined to use his authority to take this action, but I remain hopeful that he will do so soon.
The state has taken steps to help address medical care and personnel needs related to COVID-19. By the end of the week, Texas will begin receiving more personal protective equipment (PPE), including 100,000 masks per week.
To help add to the pool of medical providers, the state has fast-tracked the temporary licensing of out-of-state physicians and physician assistants, as well as certain retired physicians and nurses. Hospitals are also being allowed to increase their capacity without the customary application or fees. To allow patients to consult their doctors without contributing to the spread of COVID-19, telemedicine visits will be covered like in-office visits for any individuals covered by state-regulated insurance plans.
For those who have lost their employment or whose hours have been reduced as a result of the virus, certain regulations related to applying for unemployment insurance have been lifted, including no longer having to wait to apply or be actively searching for employment to be eligible. If you think you may be eligible, but are unsure, visit the Texas Workforce Commission website or contact my office by calling 817-459-2800.
For a full list of regulatory changes to address COVID-19 emergency needs, click here.
If you need guidance about state services related to Medicaid, drivers licenses, car registration, and more, visit Texas.gov.
WHERE TO GO IF YOU NEED HELP OR HAVE HELP TO GIVE
Organizations across our community are working to provide assistance with food, clothing, housing, and counseling. If you are in need of services or are looking for organizations that need your help, a list of local community resources may be found here.
If you are a medical or dental professional with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available for donation, please consider gifting them to your local hospital or use the State of Texas Portal for COVID-19 donations.
Right now, one of the most important things you can do is to donate blood. The social distancing necessitated by COVID-19 has left blood banks and hospitals at critically low levels. COVID-19 is not blood transmissible, so please consider contacting Carter BloodCare or the American Red Cross to donate today.
AID TO SMALL BUSINESSES
Small business owners in need of help may apply to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program from the U.S. Small Business Administration for a loan of up to $2 million.
DOING OUR PART TO SLOW THE SPREAD
The easiest and most important thing we can do to help slow the spread of COVID-19 is to follow these simple guidelines:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
- Avoid shaking hands and having unnecessary physical contact with others.
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, remotes, phones and light switches.
- Do not overbuy when shopping at the grocery store.
- Stay at home as much as possible, especially if you are feeling ill.
By staying home, we will keep ourselves and our families healthy.
If there is anything we can do to assist during this difficult time, please call my office at 817-459-2800 or email email@example.com. This is one of the most challenging times any of us have ever lived through, but I am fully confident in the strength and resilience of our nation, of Texas and of our North Texas community.
Today, I am proud to endorse Joe Biden for President.
If there has been a presidential election in which the stakes are as high as they are this year, I do not know what it is. From the earliest days of Donald Trump’s presidency, when he imposed a xenophobic travel ban and insisted there were “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville – where one of the “sides” was literally a group of neo-Nazis – to the stunning impeachment trial, Trump has consistently demonstrated he is unfit for the presidency.
Trump is on trial for abusing his power: he withheld aid from another nation in order to get them to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden. Trump clearly knows the former vice president is the Democrat who poses the greatest threat in November. That in and of itself is a good reason to support Biden, but it’s far from the only reason.
As a senator and then as vice president, Joe Biden has distinguished himself as an outstanding public servant. He’s always been a powerful voice for working class Americans. He passed the Violence Against Women Act. He took on the NRA – and beat them – to pass the Brady background check bill. And as President Obama’s right hand for eight years, Joe Biden helped pass the reforms that saved the auto industry, stabilized our economy and brought health insurance to millions of Americans. His is a record of service and results.
Perhaps most importantly, Joe Biden personifies decency. Our nation has never needed a dose of decency and honesty in the White House as we do right now.
It will take years to undo the damage that Donald Trump has already done to our nation. I believe Joe Biden is the candidate best qualified to defeat Trump and begin the vital work of restoring decency and integrity to the presidency and making our government work again for the American people.
I respect all of the Democratic candidates who have sought and continue to seek our nomination and know many of them would make a good president. I am especially appreciative of the campaigns run by Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke – both represented Texas well on the national stage and have much to contribute to Texas and the country in the years ahead.
Now, as voting nears and the field of remaining candidates narrows, it is time to get behind the candidate who gives us the best opportunity to win in November. I hope you’ll join me in voting for Joe Biden in the March 3 Texas Democratic Primary.
As students and teachers head back to school, I wanted to highlight some of the new laws going into effect following the recent legislative session that will impact students, teachers, parents and taxpayers.
INCREASED FUNDING FOR OUR SCHOOLS
HB 3 is the omnibus bill aimed at addressing our state’s broken school finance system and adding more state funding for our schools. As passed, $4.5 billion was allotted for education reforms and full-day Pre-K. Another $2 billion is earmarked for increased compensation for public school teachers, counselors and librarians. I am proud to have co-authored this legislation and to have written the amendment that helped lead to substantial pay increases for most employees.
In addition to adding more money to our schools, the bill “buys down” $5 billion in property taxes. However, homeowners will not see much of an impact on their tax bills and what relief you do see will likely be short-lived. A better solution, one supported by House Democrats, would have been to increase the homestead exemption. Doubling the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 would have saved the average homeowner $325 each year.
Retired teachers also deserve a raise, which is why the Legislature dedicated $589 million for a 13th check averaging $2,000 per retiree. In addition to this extra payment, $524 million was appropriated to make the Teachers’ Retirement System of Texas actuarially sound and another $230.8 million will be spent to keep retired teachers’ healthcare premiums from increasing.
Last week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released district and school level A-F ratings. Arlington ISD received a B (86%) and Mansfield ISD an A (90%). I congratulate both districts on a great score and the hard work that went into them. That said, these scores simply cannot tell the whole story.
I have had serious concerns since the inception of the A-F system. Like many teachers, parents and school administrators, I believe that the rating system oversimplifies the way schools are evaluated and doesn’t give the full picture of the strides and successes made in our classrooms.
As we’ve seen in at least one case, districts are at risk of being penalized for issues out of their control. At the beginning of the legislative session, I met with AISD about their 2018 grade and how some meaningful data was not counted toward their score, which likely suffered as a result. In response, I filed two measures to fix the issue. Both passed and both go into effect on September 1st. Now, going forward, districts will have access to all data collected in order to confirm that it is correct and complete before a grade is issued by the state.
The tragic shooting at Texas’ Santa Fe High School last year served as a devastating reminder that we must do more to ensure that our school campuses and communities are safe. To provide additional support from the state, the Legislature passed SB 11, which will help add on-campus security personnel, provide avenues for districts to upgrade security and technology, and increase access to school mental health counseling and trauma-informed care.
Hopefully, these reforms will make a real difference for Texas public schools. Our students and teachers deserve nothing less.
To all teachers, students and their family members — best wishes for a successful school year.
On Saturday, 20 people, shopping for groceries and back-to-school supplies, lost their lives in a hate-fueled act of white supremacy and domestic terrorism. It was just reported that two of the more than two dozen wounded in this heinous attack have also died, bringing the number of victims to 22.
And amazingly, though it’s only been 48 hours, El Paso was not our nation’s most recent mass shooting. Thirteen hours later, another nine people would be gunned down in Dayton, Ohio.
El Paso is a strong community and I know its resolve and spirit are unbreakable. We need to help our fellow Texans in El Paso as they deal with the aftermath of this terror attack. If you would like to help the victims in El Paso, visit the El Paso Community Foundation’s Shooting Victims Fund by clicking here.
Helping people in need must be our first priority. But the work cannot end there. We have to take action to put an end to mass shootings and the growing white nationalist threat in this country.
Just think: Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe and now El Paso. Four mass shootings in Texas in three years and little has changed.
In Washington and in Austin, common-sense gun safety measures have been ignored or defeated. Harmful and hateful rhetoric coming from the White House is nearly always unchallenged by members of the president’s party. There is far too much finger-pointing and deflecting of blame. All while innocent people continue to die, needlessly.
Here in Texas, why won’t our Republican leaders act?
In large part, they are too afraid to stand up to the NRA and the Tea Party. They’re afraid to challenge the powerful gun lobby for fear of being challenged at the ballot box. Instead, they place the blame on mental health or on video games.
Yet, when the opportunity presents itself to do something meaningful to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, nothing happens.
Texas needs a Red Flag Law, a measure strongly supported by law enforcement that would help reduce the number of dangerous or unstable people who have access to firearms. In fact, after the Santa Fe massacre, Greg Abbott briefly put Red Flag Laws on the table. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said he was opposed, so the governor dropped the idea and backed off.
This was a major missed opportunity due to lack of leadership. And this is but one example.
A few months ago, on his way to school, my 7-year-old godson told his mother, “I like lockdown drills because I like to hide.” What a hard thing to hear from a child. In 1st grade, he should not be preparing for mass murderers, learning to hide from weapons or living in near-constant fear when he’s in his classroom. Unfortunately, however, that has become his generation’s new normal.
We can’t allow this to continue.
On Friday, I joined several of my colleagues in Austin for a House committee hearing focused on the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. For six hours, we heard from state agency heads, officials from border counties and representatives from immigrant-rights organizations. We discussed the treatment of detained children, the separation of families and the bleak conditions at many of these facilities, including the lack of access to the most basic needs.
It was apparent that a lack of resources and coordination among federal agencies and other levels of government is in part to blame for these conditions — an issue that I hope was brought more into the light as a result of this hearing. I continue to question, as I did in the hearing, whether Governor Abbott’s recent deployment of 1,000 National Guard to help run detention facilities is the best use of resources. We heard from city and county officials who are literally on the front lines of this crisis who would benefit tremendously from direct support from the National Guard in particular and the state and federal governments, in general.
Of course, we wouldn’t be having these discussions if the Trump Administration had not handled this entire situation so incompetently from the beginning. The president’s apparent indifference to this humanitarian crisis is what has rightfully angered so many Americans.
Saturday, I traveled to Carrizo Springs, located between San Antonio and Laredo, to visit a recently opened migrant shelter currently housing 206 teenagers, with the capacity to house over 1000 more. This facility, run by the US Health and Human Services in partnership with Baptist Children’s and Family Services, is an improvement over the overcrowded and harsh conditions at Border Patrol facilities on our border.
The shelter staff is working to reunite children with their families, with a goal of no one being there more than 30 days. I appreciate the work being done there, and how the facility differs from the horrific conditions at detention centers on the border.
The migrant shelter and the detention centers do share something in common — they are both a symptom of our nation’s overall failure to deal with immigration policy in a comprehensive, effective manner. Until we do, we will continue to pay a human and financial cost.
If you would like to help detainees and others impacted by this humanitarian crisis, click here for a list of opportunities to provide support.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is the largest state agency in Texas and one of the largest in the entire nation. The state’s current two-year budget totals $217 billion; HHSC is responsible for about $80 billion of that. Given the sheer number of dollars involved – and the important programs it oversees – it’s really important the agency is well-run.
Under former Governor Rick Perry, HHSC was rightfully criticized for bungling huge, multi-million dollar contracts – wasting taxpayer money and sometimes failing to deliver health care services efficiently. When Governor Greg Abbott took over three years ago, he made a big show of putting his own people in at HHSC and signaling with him in charge, things would be different.
Not so much. It’s really just more of the same.
Last Wednesday, Abbott’s HHSC Executive Commissioner, Charles Smith, appeared before House budget writers in response to two more state contracts being mishandled by the agency.
In an effort to acknowledge the agency’s mistakes, Smith said: “I’m sitting before you because we failed. We let you down. We let the governor down. We let taxpayers down. We let our vendors down. We let our fellow professionals down. Everyone deserves better.”
That same day, the agency’s chief operating officer stepped down. Two days later, the deputy executive commissioner for procurement and contracting services followed and became the fifth departure in two short weeks over this new set of failed contracts that have followed years of contract mismanagement.
The first of this month’s bungled contracts impacts Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) providers servicing rural areas of our state. The agency incorrectly scored potential providers’ applications, resulting in the cancellation of five contracts worth $580 million. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was the competing providers, not internal agency controls, that identified the errors. Fortunately for CHIP recipients, the contracts were not set to go into effect until September 1, 2018 and current coverage will be extended to prevent a gap in service.
The second set of errors were revealed via a State Auditor’s report outlining problems with a $17.5 million contract from 2016 for the maintenance of the state’s birth and death records database. As with the CHIP contracts, HHSC failed to use the correct methods to score vendor applications. HHSC officials also used incorrect information to award the contract to Genesis Systems, Inc. The errors ultimately led to the database launch being delayed by a year at a cost to taxpayers of an additional $1 million.
These contracting errors are unacceptable. But what is even more unacceptable is what is missing from Smith’s mea culpa to the committee. It’s the millions of Texans — our state’s most vulnerable who rely on programs administered by HHSC — that Smith, our state’s leadership and this agency have let down.
These contracting errors and mistakes have to stop. There is far too much at stake.
Two weeks ago, 17 people in Parkland, Florida — 14 of them students — were murdered, shot by a 19-year-old with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.
In the hours and days that followed, the students of Stoneman Douglas High School quickly turned tragedy into action by calling on elected leaders to do something to stop mass shootings. Their determination has inspired many more across our country to speak up and speak out.
Nationwide, it seems that the tide is turning when it comes to people’s attitudes about gun violence. Following the tragedy on Valentine’s Day, Quinnipiac polled a cross-section of Americans and the results were pretty clear. Of those polled:
- 75% want Congress to do more to address gun violence
- 97% support universal background checks
- 83% support a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases
- 76% support an assault weapon ban
However, as has become the norm after a gun-related tragedy, many Republican leaders at both the state and national levels have succumbed to the extreme NRA’s influence. The head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, has made it clear that he cares more about the right of someone – even an 18-year-old – to buy an AR-15 than he does about school safety. He’s even gone as far to say that those in support of gun safety measures “don’t care about our schoolchildren. They want to make all of us less free.” How offensive.
For some, the answer has been to increase the number of guns. For example, President Trump thinks that arming teachers is the solution. It’s not. He talks about a need for more mental health care — I agree, we need more access to care — but if he really cared about making mental health care more accessible, he would stop undermining the Affordable Care Act.
Common sense solutions that have broad support from the American people, such as universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning assault weapons like the AR-15 and raising the legal age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21 won’t threaten anyone’s freedom. They will, however, save lives.
In addition to keeping guns out of the wrong hands, we need to look for ways to intervene when a child or adolescent shows signs of destructive behavior.
In 2016, when I served on the House Select Committee for Mental Health, I learned how some Texas school districts have put mental health providers and centers on campuses and who are available 365 days a year to students, their families and school staff members. Austin ISD, which has taken a lead on providing these services, reports incredible results, including higher graduation rates, lower suspension rates and a more positive atmosphere on the campuses served. This could be replicated across Texas if there is the funding and the political will.
Our state’s leaders must make this type of intervention a priority.
Once and for all, we must do everything we can to stop high-powered weapons from falling in the hands of those who want to cause harm and we must make it a priority to help troubled children and adolescents before it’s too late.
It is my hope that we see swift action at the federal level and that this issue carries through to the November election and on to the next legislative session. For far too many have died tragically in schools, churches, restaurants, movie theaters and other public places. It’s up to us to have the courage and conviction to do something to stop it.
Today is the first day of early voting for the March 6th primary election.
I think we can expect this year’s election – both the primary and the November general election — to be historic. People are fed up with Donald Trump and politicians like Ted Cruz and Konni Burton, who put extreme Tea Party interests above neighborhood schools, the economy and our healthcare.
It’s time to send a strong message that we need change from the top down, which is why I urge you to be a part of this historic election by voting in the Democratic Primary. There are many important contests in this year’s primary and I hope you will consider voting for the following candidates I have endorsed:
Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate – Beto is mounting a strong challenge against the extreme Ted Cruz. Beto’s grassroots campaign is inspiring a lot of people across our state and as our Senator, he will put Texas first, for a change.
Marc Veasey for U.S. Representative, District 33 – We have one of the best congressmen around, and we need to keep him! Marc is a hard-working leader for Tarrant and Dallas Counties and is fighting for us and against the Trump agenda every day in Washington.
Beverly Powell for State Senate, District 10 – I’ve known Beverly for more than a decade and know she will put people ahead of politics. With her service on the Burleson ISD School Board and years of involvement in our community, Beverly has what it takes to beat Konni Burton in November. When elected, she will be a strong advocate for Tarrant County, something we have been missing in Senate District 10 for the last few years.
Devan Allen for Tarrant County Commissioner, Precinct 2 – I was fortunate to work with Devan when she served as my District Director and know firsthand her commitment and passion for serving others. When elected, she will be a needed addition to the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court and a strong voice for Precinct 2. In addition, I know Devan will be an effective ally on key House District 101 priorities, including health care and transportation.
If you live in Arlington, Grand Prairie, Mansfield or Kennedale and would like to learn more about Devan, Lisa and I are hosting a meet-and-greet event at our home in Grand Prairie onSaturday, February 24 from 2 to 4:00 pm. For more details or to RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early voting runs through Friday, March 2nd. For Tarrant County early voting times and locations, click here.
2018’s going to be a good year – be part of it by exercising your right to vote!