BY JASON COHEN
New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens, is one of the hardest hit districts in the country when it comes to COVID-19 cases.
On May 1, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez outlined her campaign’s efforts to mobilize a grassroots army in support of her district during COVID-19 and pledged to raise $1 million to help her constituents. With more than 19,200 positive cases, New York’s 14th Congressional District has higher numbers than all of Manhattan, despite having nearly a million fewer residents.
AOC introduced the House companion of the Pandemic Disaster Assistance Act, legislation first put forward by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) in March. The bill would expand the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide financial assistance directly to individuals during a pandemic, including the current coronavirus outbreak. FEMA can only provide individual assistance during natural disasters, such as wildfires, floods and earthquakes.
“Nearly 20,000 people in my district have tested positive for a deadly virus,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Thousands of my constituents are without work. We built temporary field hospitals in public parks. This is what a disaster looks like. FEMA needs to begin immediately dispersing aid to individuals hurt by COVID-19.”
The Pandemic Disaster Assistance Act would ensure that after any disaster, following approval from the governor and the president, individuals would be able to apply directly for aid from the following programs, among others:
- Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP)
- Disaster Unemployment Assistance – This existing program would be expanded to individuals who lose their jobs, see their hours reduced or cannot reach their place of work because of the pandemic. It would last for 26 weeks and could be extended by the president. It creates a national floor for benefits at one and a half times the national weekly average and provides waiver to requirement to exhaust state unemployment insurance options.
- Medical Assistance – assistance with medical expenses as a result of a disaster.
- Funeral Assistance – available to families with loved ones that die from the disaster.
- Child Care Assistance – up to eight weeks of child care expenses.
The congresswoman announced a new fundraising drive for workers on the front line. To date, the campaign has raised nearly $350,000 for 15 community groups exclusively through grassroots donors. These groups are providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to front line workers as well as financial support to undocumented families, service workers, the food insecure and Amazon warehouse workers her district. Those who want to donate to the relief efforts can do so here.
The congresswoman is setting a new goal to raise $1 million for these groups by mid-June. Representatives from some of the local community groups spoke at the press conference.
Ocasio-Cortez also discussed her campaign’s food relief program. Through a partnership with four local food banks and the support of grassroots donors and volunteers, the campaign has delivered more than 500 meals to constituents and is committed to delivering 2,000 by mid-June. Those who want to volunteer with relief efforts can sign up here.
“Day Laborers and Jornaleras are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19,” said Ligia Guallpa, executive director of Worker’s Justice Project (WJP), a recipient of the campaign’s fundraising efforts. “They are delivering food, cleaning essential facilities and continue to work in construction sites to keep our city running. They remain in these dangerous jobs because they don’t have the financial support from the government to quit and stay home.”
Glenda Sefla, a former nail tech in NY-14 and current organizer with the NY Nail Salon Workers Association, praised AOC.
“Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has demonstrated her solidarity with nail salon workers again and again,” Sefla said. “She was there when we called for the elimination of the subminimum wage for tipped workers, and she has shown up during the COVID-19 crisis by promoting our fund and mobilizing her network to bring in thousands of small donations. We are grateful for her leadership not only with our fund but also in calling for the government to do more for immigrant workers.”
Additionally, she talkedbbaout her campaign’s efforts to do “check-in” calls for her constituents. The campaign’s field team and volunteers have made over 100,000 calls to check on constituents’ well-being and connect them with local resources. Their goal is to make 500,000 calls by mid-June. Those who want to volunteer with relief efforts can sign up here.
This story first appeared on bxtimes.com.