Category Archives: Your Wallet

CPPP Releases New Family Budget Tool

One of my favorite policy groups, the Center for Public Policy Priorities released a new data tool that finds what a two-income family with two kids must earn to cover basic expenses in various areas of the state, without any kind of family or government assistance.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other public sources, the Center for Public Policy Priorities created the Better Texas Family Budgets, an online public education tool that measures what it really takes to survive and thrive across 26 metropolitan areas for eight different family sizes.

They go on to describe some startling facts.

“The basic budgets we’ve created paint a picture of what it takes for Texas families to cover basic needs and have a safe and healthy lifestyle,” said Frances Deviney, senior research associate at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “Our base budgets don’t account for what it takes to get ahead, such as college savings for their children or emergency savings to protect against unexpected hard times.”

To explore what it takes to get ahead, the Better Texas Family Budgets tool features three new savings categories – emergency, college, and retirement – that the user can opt to add on top of the basic family budget.

“The Better Texas Family Budgets addresses how much income is enough for working Texas families, and clearly, the answer is complex,” Deviney said. “It depends on how big your family is, where you live, and what kind of benefits your job provides, if any at all.”

The Better Texas Family Budgets also calculates how many jobs in each metropolitan area pay enough to cover the needs of different sized families.

“From what this shows us, just having a job is not enough in Texas, and there is gap between what people are earning and how much it costs to live.” said Don Baylor, Jr., senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Nearly 80 percent of low-income Texas families are working full-time and year-round, so clearly many of them are poor not because they don’t work but because their job doesn’t pay enough. In fact, Texas has the third-worst rate across the country of jobs that pay at or below minimum wage.

“Not only do we need jobs that pay and offer good benefits, but also we must reinvest in the safety net to keep families from falling further into poverty when times get tough,” Baylor said.

For all those who complain about assistance for those who need it, well, this tool provides a dose of reality.

This tool highlights what life is really like for Texas families and emphasizes what our policy priorities should be moving forward during the 2013 legislative session. To ensure that all Texans can not only get by, but can actually get ahead, we need to invest in public and higher education to create opportunities for well-paying jobs with benefits. We also need to shore up those work supports for Texans whose jobs don’t pay enough to cover basic expenses by ensuring they do not go hungry (e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and have access to affordable quality health care (e.g., implementation of health reform). These programs provide a critical hand-up to families who are working hard to get ahead.

Accompanying the tool is a video documentary which can be seen here.

Thanks to CPPP for developing this snapshot of reality.

Chip In and Support Los Angeles del Desierto

We’ve all heard the stories of migrants who cross deserts and treacherous waterways as they attempt to find a better life. Along with those stories are those in which migrants lose their lives in desolate, desert areas. And that includes Texas.

Los Angeles del Desierto is an all-volunteer search and rescue operation of lost migrants on the US/Mexico Border founded in 1997 by Rafael Hernandez.

For the last 15 years, Hernandez has dedicated his time, resources and financial stability to save lives, lay the dead to rest and ease the pain of countless families looking for their loved ones. Using his skills and training as a paramedic, Hernandez has conducted numerous searches/rescues of migrants reported missing or left behind in mountains, deserts and other isolated border areas in California, Arizona and Texas.

Hernandez and his volunteers, whom he recruits and trains, have evacuated an estimated 90 migrants in mortal danger when lost, physically ill, and suffering the consequences of extreme weather during border crossings.

As reported by the Chron, they were in Houston a few days ago to speak about their work. With three vehicles and 10 volunteers, they have now set off to South Texas, and, according to representatives are currently in Encinal, TX–about 70 miles south of my hometown of Crystal City and just north of Laredo.

Two of the largest ranches in South Texas have given permission to Los Angeles Del Desierto to look for missing migrants.Until now, our local coalition Houston United and individuals were able to cover the expenses needed to assist Los Angeles Del Desierto with their mission. On this occasion, we find that we do not have sufficient funds to get them beyond our city. We need your help now.

Over 127 bodies of migrants were found in 2012 around the Falfurrias checkpoint, double the previous year. The work done by Los Angeles del Desierto provides those families with lost loved ones some closure, and at the very least the security in mind that their loved ones were treated with dignity. But they need our help–whatever donation you can give is greatly appreciated.

You may click here to make your contribution. Share this post or “like” them on Facebook and share them.


Caravan for Peace to Confront Gun Dealer

As DC has reported to you all, the Caravan for Peace and Justice, an effort to stop the failed “war on drugs,” will be arriving in Houston tonight. Click here to get the latest itinerary. On Monday, before heading out to other parts on the way to DC, they will confront a local gun dealer linked to drug traffickers. Here’s the press release:

Caravan for Peace, Mexican Victims of Drug War to Dismantle Military-Style Assault Weapon and Transform into Symbol of Peace at Heart of Historic Mexican Neighborhood.

Bearing pictures of their dead relatives, families, exiled Juarez residents, relatives of the more than 60,000 killed in drug war will also go to Carter’s Country, Houston Arms Dealer Linked to Gun Sales to Drug traffickers, and Confront Them with the Human Toll of Drug War and the Urgent Need to Regulate These Weapons

Houston, Texas –On Monday, August 27th, members of the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity will join Houston-based and other US residents, to gather in the heart of the historic Mexican neighborhood in Houston to publicly dismantle a military-style assault weapon purchased Saturday and bury it in cement in a public action calling attention to the human devastation caused by this kind of weapon. Caravan members and their supporters will also demand that President Obama enforce the existing ban on the importation of military-style assault weapons and other measures to stop the illegal sale of weapons, which have been linked to the deaths of thousands of Mexicans killed in the drug war.

Participants in the solemn act will dismantle an assault weapon like those sought by drug cartels and easily purchased from gun dealers and private citizens. They will then transform it into a symbol of peace, in an act harkening back to the turning of swords into plowshares. Families bearing large and small pictures of loved ones lost in Mexico’s drug war will later join Mexican exiles in confronting the Carter’s Country gun dealership with images and testimonies of the effects of these military assault weapons on families living on both sides of the border.

“We’re not here in the United States to contest the Second Amendment. The Caravan for Peace is here because our loved ones have been shot and kidnapped, displaced and murdered with military assault weapons sold in U.S. stores and gun shows,” said Javier Sicilia, the poet turned activist and Caravan leader after his son, Juan Francisco, was killed last year. “Assault weapons sold by U.S. gun dealers like those here in Houston are responsible for thousands of drug war deaths in Mexico, and in doing so, these gun dealers make a mockery of the Second Amendment. Together, you here in the United States, and we in Mexico, can help end this madness,” Sicilia concluded.

Where: 333 South Jensen Dr., Houston (map) (event at 11am) and the Caravan will then drive to Carter’s Country, 2120 S. Shaver St., Pasadena (map) following the press conference

When: Monday, August 27, 11:00 a.m.

Media should contact Contact: John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation: (510) 282-8983
Roberto Lovato, (213) 820-8424 for information related to the Caravan for Peace

Anyone may join the action online, too.

A petition demanding President Obama stop the flow of arms into our communities:

And for more information.

Petition against gun smuggling:

or text PEACE to 225568

For more information:

About the Movement for Peace with Justice and

Twitter: @CaravanaUSA (


HCC Set to Add $425 Million Bond to Ballot

There’s no doubt that our community college systems are bursting at the seams and Rick Perry and the Republicans at the State Capitol have cut deeply into investment in higher education. And the results are quite noticeable as those of us served by Houston Community College System may get to vote on a $425 million bond package in November.

HCC officials say the bonds are needed to cope with exploding enrollment, rapidly-changing technology and shrinking state funding. In the last five years, enrollment has increased from 50,000 to 75,000, straining classrooms and campuses to their capacity, said HCC spokesman Dan Arguijo.

Anyone who feels investment in higher education should be a priority has some very good reasons to vote yes on this bond, if approved for the ballot by the HCCS Board.

As an example of the need for more space, HCC board chairman Mary Ann Perez pointed to HCC’s Coleman College for Health Sciences in the Texas Medical Center.

Built for 1,500 students, the facility now holds 3,500, leading to parking shortages, crowded classrooms and the turning away of 9 out of every 10 nursing applicants, Perez said. The bond proposal allots $120 million for a new health care education and early college building.

The plan also emphasizes workforce development in energy and the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math, Perez said.

“Houston is the energy capital of the world. The only way to maintain our leadership is to have a well-qualified and trained workforce,” Perez said. “Right now, we are simply unable to support student demand.”

Money would be designated for renovations or new construction at all six HCC colleges, including $27 million for a new workforce building in Stafford, $40 million in North Forest for workforce and early college buildings, and $53 million for a new westside campus at Westheimer and Eldridge Parkway.

There’s some opposition coming out of those served in Alief because they feel some of the promises made by HCC when they took them into the district have not been met. But the cash seems to be in the pipeline. Alief must be made a priority before some of this new bond money is expended on newer facilities. Still, there must be some strong demand for a westside campus.

It seems to me that this would be a worthy investment with a small increase in the property tax. Now that I actually live in the big city, I get to vote on this. Let’s see what the Board decides on Thursday.


No Consensus on Closed Meetings; Proposal Dead

Well, I’m happy about this.

What a mayor’s spokeswoman called a “lack of consensus” was manifest in a committee meeting last week during which several council members criticized the idea as bad policy and bad timing.


Mayor Annise Parker‘s agenda for Wednesday’s council meeting seeks approval to put the two charter housekeeping amendments and the five bond measures on the November ballot. The closed-session proposal was not on the agenda.

Mayoral spokeswoman Janice Evans wrote in an email that Parker had no pre-conceived opinion on closed sessions.

“She is able to see all of the arguments both for and against. Given the lack of consensus on Council, she decided not to move forward,” Evans wrote.

Frankly, with five bond propositions and two housekeeping ones, along with METRO and HISD, I’m a bit worried about voter education on all of this stuff. And that’s on top of my worry over all of the candidates!

Anyway, here’s what will probably be placed on the November ballot for the City of Houston at Wednesday’s meeting:

  • Proposition A: $144 million bond measure for public safety
  • Proposition B: $166 million bond measure for parks
  • Proposition C: $57 million bond measure for general government
  • Proposition D: $28 million bond measure for libraries
  • Proposition E: $15 million bond measure for affordable housing
  • Proposition 1: Repeal outdated provisions from city charter, including those that give the city the power to set the price of bread and appoint Houston school board members
  • Proposition 2: Strike from the city charter references to the Democratic primary in city elections, which no longer exists in officially non-partisan races for city offices


DC Reviews: Los Texmaniacs ~ Texas Towns and Tex-Mex Sounds

First of all, I want to see Los Texmaniacs do the intro and exit music for SA Mayor Julian Castro at the Democratic National Convention.

Secondly, Los Texmaniacs happen to be my favorite conjunto band. Led by the dexterous Bajo Sexto playing of Grammy Winner Max Baca and the acordeon of the legendary David Farias, they provide fans world-wide a variety of music. They can go from conjunto to country and back for some more. Drummer Lorenzo Martinez and Bassist Oscar Garcia provide the group some extra sabor with their intense playing. Martinez does double-duty playing the Guitarron on some of the tunes.

Texas Towns and Tex-Mex Sounds was produced by the good people at Smithsonian Folkways, and serves as Los Texmaniacs’ second compilation of classic hits on that label. And this time around, they push the envelope by adding some really neat classics to this 18-track recording.

The tried and true Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio launches this production, followed by the Lydia Mendoza classic Amor Bonito. But the Maniacs waste no time getting to the special tunes, givinng us a bajo-acordeon instrumental of the Marty Robbins classic, El Paso, combined with San Antonio Rose with Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel providing the vocals.

Much like 2010’s Grammy winning Borders y Bailes, Los Texmaniacs give us timeless instrumentals, such as Santiago Jimenez, Sr.’s Viva Seguin, the Mexican classic Antotonilco, and the vals, Salvador. But another instrumental gift is that of a Texas medley, featuring The Eyes of Texas and Deep in the Heart of Texas. With Farias on the acordeon, Bobby Flores on the fiddle, and Baca’s riffs on the Bajo, these are the tunes I’d like to see at the DNC (hint-hint).

Other canciones-polkas that are timeless include El Buque de Mas Potencia, and Por Una Mujer Casada. Baca penned the newer polkita, Ana Mia, which even has a video. The Texmaniacs also expertly provide us some smooth boleros, including Si Quieres Verme Llorar, Los Barandales del Puente, and Mil Besos (vocals byLorenzo Martinez). But the tune that really hits this heart is the corrido, El Contrabando de El Paso. Baca is also joined on vocals by Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel for an amazing rendition of Waltz Across Texas.

Many record companies have attempted to reignite the conjunto genre by selling the old stuff, and preserving our culture and music should be priority one. But Los Texmaniacs have taken it a step further by giving us these tunes in a soulful manner without the tunes losing their integrity. What makes this production a special one is being secure in the knowledge that Baca and the gang can reproduce this stuff live and to perfection. Check out a show one of these days!

Texas Towns and Tex-Mex Sounds is readily available on the Smithsonian Folksways site for purchase and download. You never get this great a deal for 18 tracks.

Here’s a little something from their recent live CD:

Event: Up With The Workers! ~ Gulfton Forum on Wage Theft

From the Inbox

Saturday, July 28th at 2PM

Join us this Saturday at the Neighborhood Centers Baker-Ripley House (6500 Rookin St. 77074) for our first ever “Up with the Workers!” Gulfton Community Forum on Wage Theft. We’ll hear from community leaders, agencies, and organizations supporting workers in their struggle for just working conditions and recovering their due wages. We’ll also hear the latest from the Worker Center and the Down with Wage Theft Campaign…But most importantly, we’ll hear from YOU! Come share with us how wage theft has affected you or your community and how we can work together to bring down wage theft and make Houston a just and prosperous place to work!

For more information, email or call 713-862-8222

Parklets? Parklets? What’s A Parklet?

I had given some mention to parklets previously during the City of Houston budget amendment fun-time a few weeks ago and thought they were a good idea from my friend CM Ed Gonzalez. The Chron seems to like the idea.

Well, what are they?

Under this plan, businesses can apply to adopt on-street parking spots and turn them into parks, outdoor seating or some other storefront extension. This means more greenspace and pedestrian friendly areas at no cost to the city. And if the parklets don’t work out, they can just be turned back into parking. The parklets can even be created on a temporary basis for times of high pedestrian traffic – imagine holiday-themed parklets during December.

Well, that  doesn’t sound bad. And the Chron has given them their seal of approval.

I’ve heard from friends who like the idea and others who really dislike it.

I wouldn’t mind seeing more green space down the street from my place; perhaps it could take up some of the superfluous parking from PlazAmericas (on the back end of it). A few trees, some benches and the families in the surrounding apartment complexes would be nicely served. It could be a nice public-private effort, even.

Just a thought. Anyway, the Chron continues:

Of course, one can question whether a small park is worth the lost on-street parking spot, especially given that the most walkable areas also appear to have the worst parking crunches – lower Westheimer, for example. But because the parklet process must be initiated with neighborhood approval, it seems unlikely that parklets will replace anything but superfluous parking.

For naysayers who think that parklets aren’t a worthwhile endeavor, we encourage patience. Gonzalez isn’t proposing any massive overhaul, nor forcing parklets where they aren’t wanted. This will be a trial run to see how a parklet policy could work.

Anyway, I like the idea, too.

Texas Dem Chair Hinojosa Calls for Continued Support of Janitors

“It is like we’re disposable. They can use us for a while and then they just discard us, like if we were trash too.” –Hernan Trujillo, a Houston janitor tells the Houston Chronicle

“…Just because we’re janitors doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be treated with dignity and respect, but we’re not.” – Alice McAfee, a Houston janitor, tells the Houston Chronicle

Dear Democrats,

Last month we shared with you the story of a group of Houston janitors, many of whom are paid less than $9,000 a year. These men and women put in a hard day’s work every day, are paid less than half the federal poverty level, and are not treated with respect.

After a month of protests, hundreds of Houston janitors walked off the job to fight for a living wage, demand a better life, and to protest negotiations in bad faith from many of the employers. On Friday, Houston Mayor Annise Parker sided with the janitors and said that their actions of civil disobedience were appropriate.

No person should be treated as if they were not a human being.

During a strike by African American sanitation workers in 1968, workers held signs with the slogan “I AM a Man.” These men were striking after their request for better safety conditions fell on deaf ears. They made the requests after two workers were crushed to death at the workplace.


It’s not hard to draw the parallels to today’s striking janitors. Economic dignity and workplace safety are civil rights. People who work hard and play by the rules should earn the opportunity to have their families live with a level of dignity. Dr. King recognized this, which is why he supported the striking sanitation workers. In fact, the speech he gave at the strike was Dr. King’s last.

Sadly, dehumanization continues today. Many of Houston’s janitors are treated like less than people, and to paraphrase one of the striking janitors, discarded like trash.

Show the Houston janitors that you support their right to make a living wage by signing this petition.

This is about a belief that working men and women should be treated with dignity and respect. The strike that began in Houston has garnered national attention and has spread to six different cities across the nation.

Thank you for supporting our brothers and sisters.


Gilberto Hinojosa
Texas Democratic Party

Inbox: Janitors Fired for Defending Their Rights

From Service Employees International Union:

Janitors across Houston have been without a contract for more than a week and they have now been forced to call strikes in multiple buildings due to employer harassment and intimidation. They’re doing what they have to in order to protect their families, and they’re standing up for fair wages for all Houston workers.

But now, eleven janitors who work for New York based cleaning contractor Pritchard were notified today that they would not be allowed to return to work—in apparent violation of federal law. The janitors work at 363 North Belt.

Janitors need your support now more than ever. Can you take a minute to send an email to the owner of 363 North Belt urging them to tell Pritchard to hire back the janitors who were illegally fired?

Houston is facing a crisis. Over half a million Houstonians are paid less than $10 an hour, meaning that even if they work full-time, they take home less than $1600 a month – and as a result, one in four children in Houston now live in poverty.

Janitors want to change the tide for ordinary people in this city. And no one should be fired for exercising their right to organize and stand up for fair benefits.  Will you stand with them?

Click here to send an email in support of the North Belt janitors.

Are you ready to stand with janitors in the fight for good jobs and a fair economy? Join us tomorrow:

Tuesday, June 12th


Tranquility Park, Houston TX

Thank you,

Houston Janitors