President Donald Trump argued this week that Puerto Rico’s death toll after Hurricane Maria was exaggerated in order to make him look bad, sparking criticism from a number of politicians. U.S. House Democratic candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is one of the latest to respond, disclosing a personal connection with the natural disaster.
“My own grandfather died in the aftermath of the storm. Uncounted,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday. “Thousands of Puerto Ricans have similar stories. They have lost children, friends, & family members.”
Ocasio-Cortez, 28, won a surprising victory in New York’s Democratic primary earlier this summer, defeating 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in the state’s 14th district with a progressive platform. She was raised in New York, but her mother was originally from Puerto Rico.
The death toll on the island has been a subject of contention since Hurricane Maria’s strike last year. The number was originally reported as 64, but after a study by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health (which took into account the long-term affects of the storm), Puerto Rico’s death toll was raised to 2,975.
The Trump administration did not immediately deny this number, but two weeks later, the president tweeted, “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico.” Trump blamed the heightened numbers on Democrats, saying it was done to dampen any efforts he was making to help the U.S. territory.
In her response, Ocasio-Cortez called for an end of “finger-pointing,” and promoted the Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico, a bill introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to help the island recover.
The $146 billion plan would dedicate funds to Puerto Rico’s government, infrastructure, education, environmental remediation, and energy development, The Washington Post reports. According to Sanders, the plan would set up enough wind and solar energy to provide 70% of the island’s power within a decade.