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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raises $3.2 mllion for storm relief

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The New York lawmaker, otherwise known as "AOC," said her supporters stepped up in a matter of 24 hours.

Video Transcript

BRIAN GREENE: --right here at Houston Food Bank. And thank you for covering the activities going on. I want to thank our guests, our very own Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, our very own Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for joining us today.

So it's been a tough week. It's been said many times that disasters don't discriminate. That's not true. I'm not dismissing that this has been a tough time for almost everybody in Texas. I don't think anyone in Texas has had a fun week here. But the reality is, all the difficulties, how hard a disaster is for most of us-- for some Texas families, they are a disaster on top of a disaster.

So you think about all the things that we went through-- losing power. Of course, that is not something that is uncommon for low-income families. So we experienced that. But our power comes back on. We lost water. Well, again, that is a bad experience. For low-income families, that's something that may not be that uncommon.

But do you think about how cruel a disaster is for low-income families on top of that? 40% of Americans do not have at least $400 that they can call upon in an emergency. So you think about the things that happened.

So first off, businesses were closed. A cruel irony is that the more you make, the more likely it is that you will continue to be paid, even if that business is closed. It is the hourly workers who then don't get paid. So they've all lost income.

So they also-- when the power went off, they lost what was in the refrigerator or freezer. When their water pipes froze and they burst and they caused damage, that's say, $400 or $500 that's going to cost. For all-- most of us, yeah that's a problem. We're going to have to do without something, but it is not a disaster. For them it is.

So it's that cruel irony that disasters discriminate. But why is it that happens? Because not everybody has the means in order to take care of their families, even in time of disaster. And that is fundamentally what needs to change. Is we want-- at Houston Food Bank, yes, we are very proud to be able to help families when they're really struggling. But we wish they were not.

And what we're really hoping for is an America where everybody is able to take care of their needs because they have the income to do so. And that is ultimately what we're here to help accomplish. So let me first next introduce our very own Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia to give her remarks.

- Yay.

SYLVIA GARCIA: Thank you. And thank y'all for being here this morning. And I am just really pleased to be here at the Houston Food Bank, who I've collaborated with for many years on many, many events. But there has been no event like this one, where so many of us lost power, lost water, lost our Wi-Fi. I didn't even really have much AT&T reception. I mean, I was on a pin drop.

So a lot of us could not do what we're used to doing. But it hurts the vulnerable populations even more because we have older homes, so our pipes are apt to break more often. My district was totally in the dark and I know that people are still hurting, even today, as our power is restored, as our water is back up, because we've got repairs to make. We've got weatherization issues. We've got to make sure that people have food and water.

So help was on the way. And now help is here because my good friend, representative Ocasio-Cortez sent me a little text about, well, I want to do something. So I immediately said, whatever you do, include the Houston Food Bank because they're about making sure that people don't go hungry no matter what, no questions asked. So she said, OK.

She hit a million dollars in about four hours in the first day. And then she hit two million dollars. And this morning, she tells me that as of last night, they're at $3.2 million.

[CLAPPING AND CHEERING]

Now, that's pretty big, even for Texas sizes.

[LAUGHTER]

We're from Texas, right? Who does things with New York? We always make fun of New York. But this time, we love New York!

[CLAPPING AND CHEERING]

We love New York. So there's no better way to introduce her, other than to say that she's a good friend. And Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who's joined us, will agree that she is a rising star in the Democratic Party. She is a voice of conscience and with a heart. And she comes to Texas to help us.

And she'll be with me all day today seeing, on the ground, what is really happening. We don't have any fundraisers scheduled. We're not here to talk to the politicians. We're not here to do anything other than talk to people. We're going to knock on doors, and she's going to meet some of my constituents who need help because she's going to be ready to make sure that the package and the ideas that I've already given Speaker Pelosi on what we need to do, that she's going to be there to support us to make sure that we all have a full recovery. With that, my friend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York. Alex?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Representative Garcia. Thank you so much, Representative Jackson Lee, for welcoming us here to your district.

When disaster strikes, this is not just an issue for Texans. This is an issue for our entire country. And our whole country needs to come and rally together behind the needs of Texans all across the state.

And as was mentioned earlier, disasters don't strike everyone equally. When you already have so many families in the state and across the country that are on the brink, that can't even afford an emergency to begin with, when you have a disaster like this, it can just set people back for years, not just for days.

And so we have tragedy in this state. We need to rally around this state. We need to rally federal support for Texans and the state of Texas. And we need to make sure that we make short and long-term policy decisions so that this kind of devastation, preventable devastation, never happens again.

And so I'm incredibly excited. I think that as Representative Garcia mentioned, we hit $3.2 million in assistance for Texans across the state just last night. And I think this shows that New York stands with you. But the whole country stands with you.

And as you mentioned, Representative Garcia, we're in Texas, so we got to go big with that support. And so we hope to go even bigger. We hope to hit even more. Who knows, if we can get even four-- we'll see about that. But we really need to make sure that we're getting food and assistance to people across the state. As was mentioned, here at the Houston Food Bank, no questions are asked. So you come up and you need help, we do not have to prove a damn thing.

[SPEAKING SPANISH] in the Houston Food Bank. If you are documented, undocumented, no matter what your income, no matter your housing status, you can get help here, which is one of the reasons why we are so proud to support the Houston Food Bank, because we want to help everybody. You need it, we'll be there. That's the New York spirit, that's the Texas spirit, that's the American spirit. So thank you all so much. And I'll introduce-- oh, sorry. Go ahead.

SYLVIA GARCIA: Any questions, anybody?

- How will the $3.2 million be dispersed?

SYLVIA GARCIA: Alex?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: So we have-- the $3.2 million, we have selected 5 to 10 organizations. 100% of all donations go straight there. So we've got the Houston Food Bank, we've got ECHO-- so we have eldercare support for our Texans that are currently homeless because they are particularly vulnerable right now without shelter. So it's largely food support, elder care, housing support, shelter support. And the 10 organizations are listed in the ActBlue page, if you'd like to know the specific ones.

- What made you decide to come in person? When we first reached out and we tried to figure out what organizations-- we started trying to identify partner organizations, I think, on Monday or Tuesday. And so we started going to these organizations. And at first, we put out this support. And I thought we would be able to raise a decent amount of money. But the response was so incredibly overwhelming. When we hit $1 million in four hours, it felt like what this meant was that our country was asking us all to come together with that. And I'm aware that a lot of us have the privilege, also, of being vaccinated. And I think that comes with an elevated responsibility to step up and help as public servants. And so when we hit a million, and then we hit $2 million, it's like, all right. We got to get on a plane now. So that's one of the big reasons that we headed over.

SYLVIA GARCIA: I think what-- we were visiting about it. And I think when she heard that I didn't have water and didn't have power and was having to use a water bucket to fill my toilets, so I could get substitute for flushing, I think she went like, wow. I mean, she got the flavor of how devastating this event has been for everyone across the board. But more particularly, again, for people in my district, in Sheila's district, in the vulnerable areas where we have the older homes, the older pipes, and the less access to services.

So we're going to be visiting the district and making sure that she gets a good first, on the ground look at what is really going on. It's more than just reading it in the paper and looking at it on the news, no offense y'all. But being there and really touching people makes a huge difference. And I hope that it means that it'll encourage her to double the $3 million.

[LAUGHTER]

- What's been your thought on the Republican response?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: For me, I think what's important is to focus on the responsive leaders that are here on the ground. We have Representative Jackson Lee, who represents the Houston Food Bank. We have Representative Sylvia Garcia. They're here. And they're on the ground. And they're helping Texans. And they're knocking doors of their neighbors.

And so, what I think is really important is, let's focus on the folks who are doing the work. On the leaders and the champions and, I mean, the women here-- hello!--

[LAUGHTER]

--that are doing the work. So my response is, let's give it up to the ladies out here in Houston and across the state who are just kicking butt and making sure that families are getting fed and that their water's turned on.

- I love it.

SYLVIA GARCIA: Well, I just want to say that the response could be better from our state leadership. It could have been better in preparation. And it'd better step up and be better in doing a full independent investigation on why this incident happened. For why they didn't weatherize? Why didn't they prepare? What are they going to do? And make sure that they do it in a transparent, fair, and equitable fashion.

There will need to be reforms at ERCOT, and I urge the legislature to do that. And they should include looking at whether or not to join the Federal grid. I think everything should be on the table. Texans do not want to go through this again. They want accountability. They want to know why the system failed and, quite frankly, almost broke. So I think that Sheila and I and others will be working with our colleagues in Austin to make sure that gets done. We do not need to go through this again. Sheila, did you want to add anything on that one?

SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Yeah. May I? I think, first of all, Sylvia, Congresswoman, my sister and-- want to make sure I say it in Spanish.

SYLVIA GARCIA: Say it in Spanish.

[LAUGHTER]

SHEILA JACKSON LEE: She's my sistah.

[LAUGHTER]

SYLVIA GARCIA: Hermana.

SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Hermana. Hermana. Thank you.

[LAUGHTER]

This is-- this leaves me at an unspeakable and emotional moment. And in the backdrop, I have 20 years of experience with 20 years of neglect by the State of Texas as relates to the most vulnerable populations. Congresswoman Garcia and myself had areas, maybe the entire areas of our district-- a lot of vulnerable people, a lot of essential workers, a lot of marginal people, a lot of documented and undocumented-- but they are our residents. They are our brothers and sisters. And we know that so many of them suffered hardships even more than you might imagine. We were getting calls from children, adult children, whose parents live in older homes left behind that were trying to get them out of the freezing conditions because they thought they might die during the night. That was unacceptable and unnecessary.

And so by Congresswoman Garcia and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez coming together in this period, coming here to the Houston Food Bank-- which I love and have worked with and represent-- it answers the questions of those who don't expect anyone to come to their rescue. Don't expect that someone says, I care. Don't expect to feed a single parent with five children, who is the only breadwinner. This is why this is so emotional and so moving.

I am supporting well checks right now because we really don't know. This is a big city. And we've been without power. We don't know who is still in their home and possibly who didn't make it. By giving to elder care, the food bank, it is a lifeline for so many of our constituents who never-- Hurricane Harvey-- it goes. You try to get back on your feet. But a freeze? No one can comprehend that.

And so we are excited about the dollars-- Thank you, Brian Greene-- because we know that what happens here is a blind justice. It doesn't matter who you are. People know to come to the food bank. And they know to come to food pantries. You're helping so many because food pantries that the food bank helps. So thank you so very much, and appreciate it.

SYLVIA GARCIA: Thank y'all. We're going to roll up our sleeves and go work.