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Metro IAF at Work During Covid-19 

VICTORY: Universal Testing for People in New Jersey State Prison

After a significant pressure campaign, including national & statewide press decrying the states lack of testing in state prisons, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy committed Thursday, 4/30, at his daily press conference to conduct universal testing of all people in prison and DOC staff.  New Jersey Together, along with the state corrections' officers union, led the way, escalating pressure in the last week after bureaucratic delays. NJ becomes one of the first states in the country to conduct universal testing across its facilities. 

press decrying the states lack of testing in state prisons, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy committed Thursday, 4/30, at his daily press conference to conduct universal testing of all people in prison and DOC staff. New Jersey Together, along with the state corrections' officers union, led the way, escalating pressure in the last week after bureaucratic delays. NJ becomes one of the first states in the country to conduct universal testing across its facilities.

VOICE Celebrates First-Ever Public Defender Office in Prince William County

600 VOICE leaders applaud commitments to create Prince William's first-ever Public Defender office.

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) celebrates the historic creation of Prince William County’s (PWC) first-ever Public Defender office, which will lead to more equitable treatment for the poorest residents.  Prince William is the only Virginia county that is a majority people of color.  Having survived the state budget freeze resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the office is now funded and law.
During 2019 PWC teams of VOICE citizen-leaders personally interviewed hundreds of people concerning their experiences with court appointed attorneys to better understand the kinds of reforms that are most needed.  VOICE repeatedly heard that the poor quality of representation for low-income people in the courts was a major driver of inequality in PWC’s justice system. 
As the second-largest jurisdiction in Virginia, PWC is the largest locality in Virginia without a Public Defender’s Office.  Until the Public Defender Office stands up, it relies solely upon low-paid court appointed counsel to provide representation to indigent defendants—a system rife with serious flaws.
VOICE leader, Rev. Dr. Keith Savage, the Senior Servant at First Baptist Church Manassas, remarked “This is a major victory for the residents of Prince William County especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. Public Defenders are truly essential workers, as they help people from being unnecessarily incarcerated in jails and prisons—places where COVID-19 infections have run rampant.”       
The Virginia Indigent Defense Commission, the state steward for all Public Defender offices, is currently interviewing candidates for PWC’s Chief Defender position, plus securing office space for the 35 new lawyers and staff who will execute the office’s responsibilities.  This Public Defender office will be the third largest in the state while carrying the distinction as the first new Virginia office to open since 2004.  The office is slated to be operational in late summer or early fall of 2020.
In October 2019, VOICE mobilized 600 of its PWC leaders for an assembly with local elected officials to kick off support for the Public Defender office.  VOICE then held dozens of meetings with key decision-makers within the General Assembly, including Gov. Northam, to secure the needed $5.4 million in the budget to fund the office.  The bill to create the Public Defender office was sponsored and championed by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (2nd District) and Sen. Scott Surovell (36th District) and received critical support from Del. Luke Torian (52nd District), the chair of the powerful Appropriations committee, and was listed as a top criminal justice priority by Gov. Northam. 

There was concern that because of the Covid-19 pandemic there would not be revenue to fund the public defenders office. Due to constant pressure and support from Gov. Northam funding has been obtained.

In addition to the public defenders office, VOICE was also able to win $350,000 in supplementary funding for the office from the local Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

VOICE Wins Major Victory on Driver's Licenses 

VOICE leader Barbara Barrick got her driving privileges restored as a result of VOICE's driver's license victory.
“VOICE applauds today’s bipartisan action that will allow over 500,000   
Virginians to do what is needed and right, something they have been long denied—the right to drive to work, pick up their children from school, take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. VOICE celebrates that today’s action ends the draconian practice of denying people their driver’s licenses simply for being poor and, as often is the case, a person of color.  This issue affects thousands of people who live inside and outside of our congregations; we see it every day.”  
       - Rev. Dr. Keith Savage, Senior Servant of First Baptist Church Manassas and a senior VOICE leader.
In October of 2018, VOICE convened 1,400 of its members to ask Gov. Ralph Northam to help end this practice.  Specifically, VOICE asked Gov. Northam to allocate money in his budget to replace revenue lost from reinstatement fees, roughly $9 million per year, which in the past had been a significant roadblock to passage of legislation that would have ended the practice of suspension altogether. In December of 2018, Gov. Northam followed through on his commitment to VOICE and allocated the needed funding in his initial budget.    
Because the legislation to undue this practice failed in committee in 2019, Gov. Northam and a bipartisan group of legislators passed a budget amendment, giving it the force of law for one year.  Since that time, tens of thousands of Virginians have had their driving privileges restored including many members in our congregations. Today, with overwhelming bipartisan support, legislation has passed making the change permanent.
Read More Here

VOICE Spearheaded Felony Larceny Reform

VOICE spearheaded a successful campaign at the state level in Virginia to double the threshold for felony larceny (theft) from one of the lowest rates in the country, $500, to $1,000.  For decades, thousands of Virginians have been impacted by the unconscionably low rate that punishes people with lifetime felonies for often minor property crimes.  VOICE played a major role in urging Gov. Northam to make increasing the threshold one his top criminal justice priorities and sent teams of leaders to Richmond to meet with dozens of members of the General Assembly to help ensure its passage. 

Working Together, BUILD and Johns Hopkins University leveraged over $650k to Support a Large Scale Food Delivery System to Feed over 2,000 Residents in East Baltimore

BUILD leadership huddled as soon as the corona virus started appearing in our state. We committ to pivoting to doing everything we could to save lives while building a stronger Baltimore through this pandemic. After weeks of initial listening, BUILD leaders from Zion Baptist, Koinonia Baptist, Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, ReBUILD Johnston Square, ReBUILD Metro, and Turn Around Tuesday kicked off phase one of BUILD's public health initiative. 

On April 29th, 21 drivers were dispatched across East Baltimore delivering essential fresh food to the doorsteps of 550 families. Through donations, our drivers, many of whom have lost employment in the last several weeks, received a living hourly wage and have essential PPE while they work. In partnership with John Hopkins and City Seeds (Humanium), this food delivery will operate for the next 4 months. 

This is more than food. This strategy helps households with senior citizens and the immunocompromised shelter-in-place and reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19, eliminating the need to stand in long cues at crowded and overstretched food distribution sites. With food in your cupboards, you have more ability to financially survive, putting your income towards other crucial needs. 

This is also about dignity.  As the drivers left to make their deliveries, Father Bruce Lewandowski at Sacred Heart of Jesus shared, “I remember the photos during the Great Depression of bread lines and I remember the stories my grandparents would tell me about the humiliation they felt having to wait there to feed their family. This strategy helps folks hold their heads up a little higher, even when in need.”

We build power through relationships.  At a time when people feel cut-off and isolated, when we deliver food door to door, people see a friendly and familiar face. From a safe distance, they are called by their name and asked if they're okay. We are rekindling and reinforcing church and community ties that weeks of social distancing threaten to erode. Congregations are meeting new people and deepening relationships in the communities' greatest time of need. It shows that institutions are not simply houses of worship, but a place of transformation, even when our doors are closed.

This is the first outbreak in this global pandemic, not the last. If we continue to grow our relationships, strengthen our institutions, and expand our power, we will not only help people weather this crisis, but create a new Baltimore in the recovery. BUILD will be ready.
Metro IAF, is part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s first and largest network of multi-faith community organizations. Our 23 member organizations have deep-roots in the political and financial power centers in the eastern United States and Europe.
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