THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Albany, Georgia) ______________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release July 13, 1994
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ANNOUNCEMENT OF RELIEF AID
Ayres Corporation Building Southwest Regional Airport Albany, Georgia
2:58 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I have just had the opportunity to tour what is a small portion of the nearly 200 miles of the state of Georgia along the river that has been damaged. From here in Albany, down to Newton and back, I saw many things -- lots of houses and businesses underwater, the terrible devastation of Albany State College. When I leave here, I'll have the opportunity to fly down across Brainbridge and into North Florida to see some more of the damage as it has occurred in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.
I know there are other things which have occurred that I haven't seen in Macon and Warner Robins, and Americus suffered terrible loss of life, Montezuma's business district has been very badly damaged. And all through middle and southwest Georgia and in Alabama and Florida, we've had over a million acres of farmland damaged. This is a very serious disaster.
I want to thank FEMA and James Lee Witt for the work that they have done, and Mr. Witt came down with me today. Mr. Panetta and I flew down here today with James Lee Witt, Senator Nunn and Senator Coverdell, and Congressman Bishop and Congressman Rowland, and we met Secretary Espy when we got here, and I thank him; also Secretary Pena and Rodney Slater from the Transportation Department, and Secretary Cisneros.
We've had Senator Heflin and Senator Shelby and Senator Graham and Senator Mack on the phone with us. And of course, we have the three governors here -- Governor Miller, Governor Chiles, and Governor Folsom -- along with the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State and the Agricultural Commissioner of Georgia, Mayor Keenan and the County Executive here, Gil Barrett, and the Emergency Service officers of Georgia and Florida.
Let me say that in a flood like this -- and I've been through them as a governor and as President, when we had the 500 year flood in the Midwest last year -- that the biggest tragedy is always the human tragedy. You have 50,000 evacuees, already over 6,2000 applications for assistance. We want to be most sensitive to that. But today, i would like to announce a comprehensive package of assistance that we can make available today, and also explain what happens after today.
Today we will provide an additional package of relief funds and loans to Georgia, Florida and Alabama totalling over $60 million. FEMA will free up, from its existing budget, over $11.5 million to clean up the kind of debris that I saw so much of today, to provide emergency shelter and clean water, which is terribly important, and to utilize sandbags where they're necessary to hold back waters.
We'll allocate $4 million from the Department of Labor to provide jobs for workers who have been dislocated by this flood who are willing to participate in the clean-up and the other work that will be necessary to recover from the flood.
The Secretary of Transportation will be able to provide over $12 million immediately to help to rebuild the damage to the federal highways. HUD will provide $38 million in loans to repair some of the housing that has been destroyed so that we can help those families who can return to these houses go back as quickly as possible. In addition to that, HUD will set aside up to $10 million in housing vouchers for those who qualify for them if they are needed.
The Secretary of Agriculture who is here understands what it's like when there are 100,000 acres of farmland underwater, as there are in this county, alone. We have agreed that we will ask Congress to approve crop loss disaster assistance for this area on the same basis as that which was provided for the agricultural victims of the Middle West flood; that is, so that they can receive full reimbursement. The United States Department of Agriculture will also provide relief for Farmers Home Administration borrowers who are affected by the flood, and who are having difficulties meeting their obligations.
One of the things we do not want to do, with the decline in farmers already so evident all across our country, is to allow this flood to become a reason for more good farmers to leave the land. So we're going to do everything we can through the Department of Agriculture to keep the farmers who have been hurt by this farming.
Two other agencies I want to mention who may come into play here -- one is the Small Business Administration, which has emergency very low interest loans for businesses and for homeowners needed; and the Department of Health and Human Services may be required to provide some assistance because of the health and safety implications of this flood. We're obviously very concerned about the water treatment plants and the other public facilities that have been damaged by the flood, and that still could be damaged as the crest moves southward.
So that basically summarizes this. Let me also end where I began. The most important thing here is to help people to put their lives back together. We already have over 5,000 trailers here to try to help people get back to some normal, healthy, decent living condition who have been displaced in their homes.
It was one of the people here in our meeting -- I think it was Gil -- said that right now a lot of good people are just going on adrenaline, and neighbors are helping neighbors and church groups and civic groups and the Red Cross and the National Guard. People are just pouring their hearts out and working together. But in the end, it sinks in on people that a lot of them have lost everything they had. Fewer than 10 percent of the people who have been displaced have any flood insurance. The per capita income of a lot of these counties is way below not only the national average, but the average in the states involved. A large percentage of the people who have been totally devastated here are eligible for public assistance.
So our first priority is going to be to try to help these people get their lives in order. And we ask them, and through you -- all of you in the news media -- we ask you to help us to make sure that if there is some glitch, some foul-up, some delay, some problem, that we know about it as quickly as possible so we can put the hammer down and solve it as quickly as possible.
This essentially concludes what I have to say. I do want to give these letters of commitment. We don't have checks anymore, we do electronic funds transfer as part of our reinventing government program in Washington. But these are commitment letters that will support the funds transfer to the governors here. I want to give Governor Miller his, Governor Folsom his, and Governor Chiles his.
And let me make just this one last point to all of you. A lot of the work that's going to be done here will be done after these waters go down. A lot of the damage that will be done to crops will not become apparent until after the waters go down. And a lot of the agony that people will have in their businesses, and these little towns that have had all their business districts wiped out will not become apparent until after the waters go down.
Our commitment is to stay in this for the long run, and to do whatever is necessary. Mr. Panetta told me on the way down here today that we can make all these commitments we've made today and make good on them with the budgets that we have. We don't need -- except for the farm assistance that I just mentioned, we don't need to go back to the Congress and ask for any more legislation on appropriations now. But we may or may not in the future, depending on what the facts are. And I just want to reemphasize to all of you, we will stay in this for the long run.
We are still working with Governor Chiles in Florida on the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. The bad news is, we have to do it; the good news is, we are doing it. So we know that this will not be done overnight. And we want a clear message to go out to the citizens in Georgia, in Alabama, in Florida that we will stay in this for the long run; we will stay until the job is done. We know this is going to be a personal agony for tens of thousands of people. But we will do the best we can to help you put your lives back together. Thank you all very much.
END3:05 P.M. EDT