City of Austin Budget – A Moral Document on Poverty


Jena, 56, doesn’t have to worry about only seeing her grandchildren on holidays or birthdays; she is raising them alone. Jena has custody of  her daughter’s four children – a role she said she never imagined taking on.

“It’s hard having to start all over again, but I’m not going to turn them away,” Jena said.

Keeping her family together and out of the foster care system means she needs to look for a job after many years out of the work force. For 10 years, Jena cared for her brother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She worked full-time before her brother had both his legs amputated and his condition worsened.

“It’s been so long since I’ve worked; I’m having trouble finding a job,” Jena said.

Each day, Austinites like Jena make moral decisions about their personal finances – balancing opportunities for financial gain, while doing what’s right for their families and peace of mind.

Right now, in Austin, city council members are listening to the public and meeting with city staff to determine how the city can improve the lives, safety and the common good of its residents. In other words, it’s time to finalize the 2016 city budget.

One Voice members, representing more than 75 strong nonprofit agencies, including the Capital Area Food Bank, serving the Austin-area are advocating for a $6.7 million increase in the upcoming budget for Austin Health and Human Services Department (HHSD). The proposed 2015-16 budget for HHSD includes a $79.2 million operating budget and a $2.6 million increase in the capital budget in new appropriations. You can read more details about the proposed budget on the City of Austin website.

While this may seem like a lot of money for one department, it pales in comparison to what similar cities provide their health and human services department. There’s also the uncomfortable truth that Austin’s nonprofit sector is not able to keep pace with the increasing numbers of families falling into poverty. 

Analysis provided by Feeding America using Map the Meal Gap data shows the staggering hunger gap as indicated in blue. 

This gap represents thousands of families just like Jena, exhausting their resources and still unable to afford enough food without help. 

“I have to regroup and think, ‘What can I do?’” Jena said. “Every morning, I make sure (the kids) eat here, and then I make sure they eat breakfast at school. I know people are always talking about obese children, but when they wake up in the middle of the night saying, ‘I’m hungry,’ I know it’s not enough.”

Jena said food assistance through the Hope Food Pantry, a Partner Agency of the Capital Area Food Bank, has helped provide meals when she has no other means to do so.



The families we and many of our One Voice nonprofit partners serve are the 1.5 million poor and near-poor. The Center for Public Policy Priorities estimates that a worker in Austin will need two full-time minimum wage jobs to cover basic needs. That income increases when an individual needs to support family members. What becomes of our neighbors if charities cannot serve them and city investments cannot help lift these families out of poverty?

If Austin is to be a city for everyone, then it needs to have a budget that reflects the needs of all of its residents, especially its most vulnerable. We cannot do it alone. And if our budget embodies our morals and values, we should not have to.

Please let your Austin City Council member and the mayor know you disagree with the underfunding of HHS and support this ask.  

The budget should be set by September 8 and goes into effect October 1.

Additional Reading:

Austin American-Statesman Op Ed by One Voice Central Texas

One Voice Central Texas Put People First Campaign