After helping to raise more than $3 million in immediate aid for Texans, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, traveled to Houston to volunteer at the Houston Food Bank Saturday.
Joining Houston congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia, Ocasio-Cortez said the winter storm — which became an escalating crisis when power outages and pipe pressure issues left many Texans without food and water — was an opportunity for people across the country to come together and help.
But some needed more help than others, she said.
“Disasters don’t strike everyone equally,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the steps of the food bank Saturday. “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, and you have a disaster like this, it can set people back for years, not just for days.”
The New York congresswoman started raising money Thursday afternoon, after millions of Texas lost power amid a devastating winter storm that brought freezing temperatures.
In less than a day, Ocasio-Cortez said people contributed more than $1 million. A little more than 12 hours later, she announced on Twitter that $2 million had been raised.
As of Friday night, the New York congresswoman helped raise $3.2 million for the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, Corazon Ministries, North Texas Food Bank, Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, and Central Texas Food Bank, she said.
All money raised goes directly to the organizations, she added.
Despite the outpouring of support, Ocasio-Cortez has said charity was not a replacement for good governance, and stressed that local and congressional leaders needed to take steps to prevent such disasters from happening in the future.
“We need to make sure that we make short and long-term policy decisions so that this devastation, preventable devastation, never happens again,” she said.
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Outages began late Sunday night into early Monday morning last week as temperatures dropped into the teens across Houston and got even colder further north in the state, creating unprecedented demand and straining the Texas power grid.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid manager, initially warned of rolling blackouts. But as power generators started to fail Monday morning, those outages were more sustained and widespread than expected, ERCOT has said.
As a result, millions were left without power for hours or even days on end.
As temperatures begin to rise over the weekend, Texas lawmakers continue to demand accountability. Gov. Greg Abbott has added new emergency items for the Texas Legislature, tasking them with investigating ERCOT’s response and suggesting reforms to the grid manager. He’s also asked for legislation to mandate weatherization of the grid.
And on Thursday, state House Speaker Dade Phelan has scheduled a committee hearing to probe ERCOT’s response to the outages.
But critics have countered that some accountability needs to come from state lawmakers themselves.
“The response could be better from our state leadership, it could have been better in preparation, and it better step up and be better in doing a full independent investigation,” Garcia said on Saturday.
The Houston congresswoman urged additional ERCOT reforms, and asked the state to look into joining the federal power grid. Right now 90% of the state is on its own grid, making it more difficult to mitigate power shortages with surplus supply from the country’s eastern or western grids.
“Texans do not want to go through this again,” Garcia said. “They want accountability. They want to know why this system failed, and quite frankly, almost broke.”
Worsening the crisis was widespread water shortages after pipes froze and broke, and water pressure dropped below safe levels.
Houston and Harris County are under boil water advisories through the weekend, along with about half the state of Texas.
Those issues were especially bad in underserved communities, which often have older, less-insulated homes. Both Garcia and Jackson Lee represent Houston-area districts with median incomes below the U.S. average.
They’ve been receiving calls all week from constituents and their family members seeking wellness checks for older residents, Jackson Lee said.
“This is a big city, and we’ve been without power,” she said. “We still don’t know who is still in their home, and who possibly didn’t make it.”