Remarks by President Biden on Hurricane Ian Response and Recovery Efforts
Fort Myers, Florida
3:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Gov and the First Lady, thank you very much for the hospitality. And, you know, I want to thank the Mayor and the County Chair. Cecil took me on a little helicopter ride, and we went out on Sanibel Island and all across. And it — I mean, I’m sure it’s much worse on the ground, but you can see a whole hell of a lot of the damage from the air.
And you can imagine, because unfortunately, I’ve been to a lot of disaster areas in the last couple months — last six months. You know, more fires have burned in the West, in the Southwest, burned everything right to the ground than the entire state of New Jersey, the — as much room as that takes up.
And the reservoirs out west are down to almost zero. We’re in a situation where the Colorado River looks more like a stream. And there’s a lot going on.
And I think the one thing this has finally ended is a discussion about whether or not there’s climate change and we should do something about it.
But, folks, I also want to — Jill and I have had you all in our prayers, and I mean that sincerely. And we’re here today because we wanted to tell you in person that we’re thinking of you and we’re not leaving. We’re not leaving until this gets done. I promise you that.
You know, you walk around here, what’s left of Fisherman’s Wharf, and you don’t have to have much of an imagination to understand that everything — everything is — this historic, titanic, and unimaginable storm just ripped it to pieces. You got to start from scratch. You got to move again. And it’s going to take a lot — a lot of time — not weeks or months; it’s going to take years for everything to get squared away in the state of Florida to fully recover and rebuild.
And we’re here today with Governor DeSantis and Senator Rubio and Senator Scott and Congressman Donalds. You know, today we have one job and only one job, and that’s to make sure the people of Florida get everything that they need to fully, thoroughly recover.
We’re one of the few nations in the world that — on a basis of the crisis we face, we’re the only nation that comes out of it better than we went into it. And that’s what we’re going to do this time around: come out of it better. Because we’re — this is the United States of America, and I emphasize “united.”
We’ve seen extraordinary cooperation at every level of government, as the governor has said. And the cooperation began before the storm hit. The number one priority was saving lives.
At the request of the governor, I signed an emergency declaration.
Let’s see if this thing works. Is this one working? (The President switches microphones.)
I signed an emergency declaration that pre-positioned federal assets, including food and water and generators, not only in Florida but in other states, so it’d be ready if the worst happened. And it happened.
And we also pre-positioned the largest number of search and rescue teams ever assembled in the United States — ever assembled in the United States — and FEMA, the Pentagon, the Coast Guard, other agencies so we’d be ready to respond immediately — immediately — working with state and local officials.
And the search and rescue teams have knocked on nearly 70,000 doors and rescued over 3,800 people.
Yesterday, in Lee County alone, the search and rescue teams examined 24,000 structures just in this county, making sure we’re accounting for everyone who still may be trapped.
We have over 4,000 federal porson- — personnel on the ground as I speak.
The Army Corps of Engineers is providing emergency power to hospitals across the state, nursing homes, water treatment plants to make sure these facilities are able to continue to operate.
Tens of thousands of utility workers all across America — not just in Florida, all across America — responded to the call from Florida that needed help. Thousands — thousands from all across America, working around the clock to get power restored.
This is about America coming together. And I really mean it: America coming together.
FEMA has also delivered, as has been mentioned, 4,000 [sic] — 4 million meals, more — millions of bottles of water, and making sure that they have the immediate necessities.
But we know from experience, I know from experience how much — how much anxiety and fear and concern there are in the people. We didn’t lose our whole home, but lightning struck and we lost an awful lot of it about 15 years ago, and we had a lot to go to. We had relatives nearby. It wasn’t like everything was wiped out.
But we know the feeling, that feeling about: Where am I going to put my head down on a pillow tonight? How is that going to work? Is my kid going to be okay? Is he going to be able to go back to school? Am I going to be able to build my home? Will I — will the insurance cover it? If I don’t have insurance, God knows, what am I going to do?
And, you know, we’re working to speak to all those issues, because they all warrant immediate responses.
I’ve instructed my administration to bring — bring every element — I mean every element — of the federal government together to help with the immediate needs and long-term rebuilding.
Yesterday, we opened a disaster recovery center right here in Lee County. Three more will be open in this part of the state by tomorrow and — with more to come.
And the state is co-la- — co-locating insurance villages at the same centers so if you’re not sure what your insurance circumstance is, you’re not sure what you’re going to get, you can show up and determine in one place — one place; meet with your insurance company; and also apply for federal assistance at the same time.
From FEMA to Small Business Administration to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are — there are many ways we can help, and we’ve already started.
Already, 200,000 Floridians — 200,000 families, I should say — have registered for urgent assistance, like buying food, getting their prescriptions, clothing — the basics.
And how many of you lost your businesses? Well, the insurances may not cover — insurance may not cover everything, may not cover the full costs. So we’re in a position — some of the folks — you’re going to — have lost their homes as well. And the question is if you have insurance and will it cover the costs.
Well, I’ve directed the Small Business Administration to speed up the processing of low-interest disaster loans that can provide up to $2 million for small businesses and non-profits and additional money for lost income and $200,000 — excuse me, $200,000 for homeowners who — to close the gap between what insurance won’t cover and what their needs are. And that’s around a 1.5 percent interest rate.
And folks, look, yesterday the state asked me and we immediately agreed to activate our hotel program so individuals who need hotel rooms won’t have to pay for anything. I know there’s not many around here, but they can go to the nearest hotel and not have to worry about paying anything and just have the coverage.
If you don’t have insurance or if you’re underinsured and you’ve found a place to rent, or your car has been destroyed, you’re entitl- — may be entitled up to $37,900 in federal funds.
If you need to make repairs to your home, you may be eligible for another $39- — excuse me — $37,900. Not $39,700; $37,900. So you’re possibly — can be able to get close to $80,000 for your needs. It’s available.
And folks, look, the most important thing you can do is register so we can help figure out who is eligible for these things.
Hundreds of FEMA personnel are going door to door and to help with that — or you can call 800-621-3362.
And I’m told you’re waiting for hours and hours to get through and you’re not getting anybody answering the phone. We’ve talked about that on the way down on Air Force One, and we’re going to try to speed that up by having additional personnel. We’re trying to expand it. So you have to have a little patience for us to get it all done. So many people are contacting.
Or you can go online to DisasterAssistance.gov and find out what you’re eligible to receive.
Or you can sign up at one of the multiple disaster recovery centers — the one that’s opened here and many more that are going to be opening.
Meanwhile, in the counties hardest hit, the federal government, at the request of the governor at the very beginning, said we’ll cover 100 percent of the cleanup costs — the debris costs, which is billions of dollars when it’s all over if you think about it. We’re going to pay 100 percent for 30 days. I just extended it for another 30 days.
And the governor and I talked. I think he’s going to have come back and ask for some more beyond those 60 days, because it is consequential. Unless you clear the area, there’s not much else you can do.
And so, folks, look, we have a long road ahead of us, rebuilding entire communities from the ground up.
I want the people of fori- — Florida to know: You have my commitment and America’s commitment that we’re not going to leave. We’re going to see you through this entire process and it’s going to take a hell of long time, hopefully without any snags in the way.
Later, after the television cameras have moved on, we’re still going to be with you. We’re still going to be moving. We’re still going to be doing everything we can to try to put your lives back together again.
So many families in this community — their home is destroyed. And where we’re standing now used to be a busy strip of restaurants and shops. They’re now wiped out.
The Sanibel Causeway is ripped in two, standing hundreds — stranding hundreds of people on the other side — many who don’t want to leave, but some who wanted to leave.
We’re in a situation where in Lee County alone, initial reports say 11 schools were significantly damaged and 3 are going to have to be rebuilt.
And today is Yom Kippur. Many members of Florida’s Jewish community can’t gather at their holiest day today because they’re displaced and their homes are gone and their synagogues are not available.
Long term, the major disaster declaration I approved on September 29th is going to help rebuild schools, libraries, parks, and public community centers. We have the money to do that. You’re qualified to get that done.
We’re going to help rebuild roads and bridges and public water systems. We’ve already allocated funding from the Infrastructure Law that I signed to continue making Florida’s power grid more resilient that it is now to ensure that power comes back on faster and reduce the costs of repairs and rebuilding, because there will be more storms. There will be more storms.
When I was Vice President, I provided Florida — or we provided Florida with $200 million to install a smart grid technology. And as a result, the power is being restored quicker in Florida today than it’s ever been restored when it’s gone out.
Florida is already set to receive $13 billion over the next five years in federal funding for highways and for bridges. And the key here is building back better and stronger to withstand the next storm. We can’t build back to what it was before. You got to build back better, because we know more is coming.
I was talking to someone who was on Sanibel Island, saying that as he walked around, he noticed that those — those homes that were built later and had a different roof and different foundations, they did very well. They — they survived.
We can build to withstand the kind of things that you’re — we see — that you’ve faced of late.
And, folks, it’s going to take the federal, the state, and local partners and the private sector working together.
And here’s the deal: I promise you we’re going to be with you every step of the way.
The people of Florida, to all of you, we’re in this together. This is the United States of America. The United States of America. (Applause.) It’s not something else.
So, thank you all, because a lot of people around the country are going through similar disasters.
As I said to a couple of the folks I was talking to — and I’ll end with this: You know, I’ve — I’ve been out, I guess now, 9, 10, maybe — depending on how you count them — 12 major disasters around the country. You know, more timber, more homes, more buildings, more police stations, fire stations, et cetera have burned to the ground in California, Oregon, Wisconsin — well, excuse me — Oregon, Washington State, Idaho, down in New Mexico and Arizona than makes up the entire — the entirety of the state of New Jersey. To the ground. Gone. Gone.
And so, the thing I plead with you to do — and I’m sure you will — we’re going to get you all through this. You’re going to get — because of the grit of all of you.
But when you get it done, when you hear it happened to somewhere else, remember, this is the United States of America. We’re all in this together. Thank you. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, what do state, local, and federal officials need to do differently to prevent future loss of life?
THE PRESIDENT: What the governor has done is pretty remarkable, so far. I mean, this is — what he’s done.
In terms of — you know, it’s — you know, first of all, the biggest thing the governor has done and so many others have done — they’ve recognized there’s a thing called global warming. The world is changing. It’s changing. And we have to change the way, with the zoning codes — for example, my — the woman who heads up all this area for me, Liz, showed me a picture of the telephone poles we put up. Liz, where — where were they? Where is she?
Anyway, Liz showed me a picture of the telephone poles we put up in Florida. I’m not sure what — where was that telephone pole you were showing me?
MS. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Oh, it was right here. Fort Myers Beach.
THE PRESIDENT: In Fort Myers Beach. Instead of doing cement poles or wooden poles, they put up steel poles. And guess what? They all were sustained. They all survived. The wires survived. The poles survived. It cost more money to put them up, but they survived.
And we also know, when we put a lot of this on — like, in California, if we put a lot of this — if we do underground, it costs more money. Put it — tunnel it; it survives.
So we got to change the way we build and where we build. The question every community is going to have to ask is, “Should we rebuild in this spot or that spot? Will it be able to withstand what’s likely to come again?” That’s a local decision.
Q How has Governor DeSantis handled this recovery effort?
THE PRESIDENT: I think he’s done a good job. He’s — look, I called him, I think, even before he called me, when I heard this storm was on its way. We’ve worked hand-in-glove. We have very different political philosophies. And — but he — we’ve worked hand-in-glove. And he’s been on — things relating to dealing with this crisis, we’ve been completely in lockstep. There’s been no differences.
Q Do you think he’s done enough on insurance reform? (Inaudible) in the state of Florida, and we know you have a National Flood Insurance Program. Are you considering anything like that for homebuyers who are struggling?
THE PRESIDENT: The answer is: That’s something that’ll be discussed.
But, look, the fact of the matter is, states like Florida, where they’ve had a lot of natural disasters because of flooding and hurricanes and the like — the insurance industry is being very stretched. We’re going to have to have a hard look at whether or not the insurance industry can be sustained.
3:16 P.M. EDT