Congressman Elijah E. Cummings
Proudly Representing Maryland's 7th District

September 2, 2005

Devika Koppikar
(202) 225-4741 or (202) 225-4025
Trudy Perkins
(410) 685-9199 or (202) 225-4741
Mike Christianson
(410) 685-9199 or (202) 225-9876

Remarks of Congressman Cummings --
Hurricane Katrina Press Conference

Washington, D.C. -- Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings joined colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as representatives of the Black Leadership Forum, National Urban League and NAACP in addressing the National Press Club on the national effort to respond to the devastation caused in the Gulf region by Hurricane Katrina. Congressman Cummings made the following statement:

"This is a moment of crisis for America.

This is a test of our character as a great nation.

As we gather here in relative comfort, Americans are dying in Louisiana.

At this moment, Americans are facing danger and desperation in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

We all have seen the horrific pictures.

We have heard the desperate screams for help.

We all have heard the accounts of the almost unimaginable devastation that has gripped America's Gulf Coast.

Now is the time for Americans to immediately respond.

Now is the time for us, as a people, to take action - with a force equal to that of Hurricane Katrina.

We face an enormous challenge - yet, this is not the time to become overwhelmed.

It is, however, a time that cries out for a heightened sense of urgency.

Now is the time for immediate and effective action - as a nation and individually.

The federal government is responding - and we are moving to pick up the pace.

Today, the Congress will approve a $10 billion emergency aid package to help fund relief efforts.

The Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have pledged to do all that we can to help.

Several of our Members will be visiting the Gulf Coast in the next few weeks to provide support.

However, we cannot stop here.

The Bush Administration and the Congress must demonstrate that we share the sense of urgency felt by those on the front lines of this battle for survival on the Gulf Coast.

We must dedicate the full resources of the federal government to stabilize, repair, and rebuild this important region of our country.

There is no time to waste - for people are dying.

The destruction caused by the aftermath of this storm gets worse every hour.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans felt lucky just to be alive after surviving the storm.

Now, they are in a continuing struggle for their survival.

Men, women and children (our countrymen) have now gone days without food - and far too long without the clean water and medical attention that they need.

They are surrounded by flood waters littered with dead bodies.

It is the frail, sick, weak and elderly that are dying all while the nation is about to celebrate a long holiday weekend.

Many of those now in such dire circumstances were already living in poverty and destitution even before Hurricane Katrina.

They had no ability to evacuate. And, now, their very survival depends upon the response of their country.

Many of these Americans who now are struggling to survive are Americans of color.

Their cries for assistance confront America with a test of our moral compass as a nation.

We cannot allow it to be said by history that the difference between those who lived and those who died in the great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age or skin color.

It would be unconscionable to stand by and do nothing.

I had a constructive conversation yesterday with Mr. Claude Allen, the President's top Assistant for Domestic Policy.

I am confident that the federal government is expanding and intensifying its response as I speak.

Yet, government cannot succeed in this challenge without help.

We must challenge leaders in the private sector to formulate strategies as to how they can best contribute.

We have long heard claims of "compassionate conservatism" among our nation's leaders.

This is the time for those with wealth and resources to step up to the plate and demonstrate that compassion.

This is the time to save human lives.

People are dying because they have no water.

Companies that bottle water now have the power to save lives.

Infants are dying because there is no baby formula to keep them alive.

Companies that make this formula must be on the front lines.

Food companies could work with the national guard to coordinate the distribution of food to the victims.

Private contractors that have helicopters and boats and buses at their disposal could put those tools to work in the service of their country.

It has been reported that oil producers and home improvement stores may actually benefit in the long run from Hurricane Katrina.

These are industries that should be the first to offer support.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not saying that nothing is being done at this time - although we all expected the federal response would have been more immediate.

Nevertheless, generosity of spirit is being demonstrated by countless individuals in this country who have given

an outpouring of support.

Now, however, is the time for those who can make a major impact with just one phone call to do so.

And if these private companies already have something planned, it is important that they coordinate their efforts to provide their help most effectively.

This crisis demands a heightened - and sustained - sense of urgency.

The public has asked what they can do. They can begin by donating to the various charities that have pledged to help in the relief effort. They can also follow our lead today by demanding that the mayors and governors across this great nation provide essential services to those now seeking shelter and aid.

In Matthew 25, verses 34 through 40, the Lord gives a simple explanation of what is demanded of true Christians:

‘Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

‘The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Mr. President, the least of our brothers have lost the little they had. They are hungry, they are suffering, and they are vulnerable now to the worst expressions of human desperation. You have recognized that our response to date has fallen short of our duties.

And I fear that God, also, would not be pleased. We are called on to do all that is necessary to care for our brothers at this time. And we pledge to work with you to extend our nation's hand and all of our nation's resources to those in dire need.

When history looks back upon how our nation pulled through this difficult time, let it reveal a record worthy of a great nation."

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