Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Fort Myers, Florida
12:16 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The moment you all have been waiting for. Hi, everybody.
Okay. As you all know, we're en route to Fort Myers, Florida, where the President and First Lady will meet with local residents and small-business owners impacted by Hurricane Ian. They will survive [sic] the damage -- they will survey, pardon me -- they will survey the damage, receive an operational briefing on ongoing recovery efforts, and thank federal, state, and local officials working around the clock to provide lifesaving assistance and supporting recovery.
Most importantly, the President and First Lady will reaffirm their commitment to helping the people of Florida as they recover and rebuild from this devastating storm.
As part of that commitment, President Biden will announce today that he is doubling the amount of time the federal government will cover the full cost of clearing debris, disturbing -- distributing food and water, and supporting shelters.
Throughout the day, the President will be joined by state and local officials, including Governor DeSantis, Senator Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Byron Daniels [Donalds], Lee County Chairman Cecil Pendergrass, Mayor Ray Murphy, as well as other federal, state, and local officials.
I also want to take the opportunity to remind you all: Though we have briefed on this before about the actions President Biden has taken to date, even before Hurricane Ian made landfall, President Biden approved the state's disaster declaration request and directed his team to mobilize federal resources to help Florida prepare for the storm.
And every day since, President Biden has directed his entire administration to prioritize lifesaving actions and ensure delivery of essential services and support -- and support to survivors. Nearly 4,000 federal personnel are on the ground now providing emergency power to hospitals serving millions of meals and evaluating the structural safety of buildings.
We are committed to helping the state of Florida build back stronger and more resilient, and we will be there for them each step of the way.
With that, I will turn it over to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to discuss any ongoing recovery.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: All right, thank you, Karine.
Good morning -- or afternoon, everybody. As you heard, we do have nearly 4,000 federal personnel on the ground today. That includes FEMA personnel, as well as our other federal partners, like the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense, the Department of Interior still on the ground.
We have 17 search and rescue teams still in Lee County that are going door by door to make sure that we have accounted for everybody. Yesterday alone, they were able to assess 24,000 structures. They're going to continue to be in the county until every structure has been looked at and cleared to make sure nobody still needs rescue.
We opened our first Disaster Recovery Center yesterday, and we're going to open three more tomorrow. We're going to continue to open these centers around the state, and the other parts of the state as well that have been impacted, as a place where individuals can go to get assistance.
And today's -- or the one that's in Lee County is also co-located with the state's insurance village. So, individuals can go talk to their insurance company, then they can come see what they're eligible for with FEMA. The SBA will also be there; they can find out if they're going to need a -- or want a loan, as well as other nonprofit and non-governmental organizations, to help meet some of those initial needs.
We know that the recovery from this is going to be long term, and people are going to need interim places to stay. The governor asked yesterday to turn on our Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, also known as our hotel program, which now means individuals can get a hotel -- one of the hotels that are participating in FEMA's program -- if they need a place to stay in the interim.
We're going to continue to move in resources and support as we start the rebuilding efforts. And as always, we're going to be really focused on, as we rebuild, that we're doing it in a way that's going to make these communities more resilient.
And so, specific questions?
Q: You just touched on what FEMA is doing to help people who were displaced find temporary housing. What is FEMA's role in helping individuals find permanent housing?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, this is going to be a very complicated recovery process for long-term housing and permanent housing for many families. There are communities that have to be completely rebuilt.
So our role is to provide that temporary housing for families as they're working through what we can do to support their permanent rebuilding. We will be working with the state to activate our direct housing program, which means we can do things like bring in our own mobile homes that they can stay in temporarily. It gives us a bunch of other tools that we can use as well.
But we're going to have to bring in the full federal family, right? And so we've already provided a mission assignment, what the -- what FEMA does to direct other federal partners to get engaged in the disaster recovery process. So we did a mission assignment to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to begin the planning for what the long-term needs are going to be to help get these people their permanent housing solution.
And everybody is going to have a unique situation, and so we're going to have to do some really extensive case management to get everybody -- understand what their needs are and get them on their road to recovery and into their final housing solution.
Q: Do you feel like you've accounted for most people? Or is the death toll likely to go up some?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, I would defer to the state. They're the ones that are capturing that information. We're providing search and rescue assets to assist them in that process.
Q: Property insurance expenses are about triple the national average in Florida, and about 12 percent of Florida homeowners don't have any property insurance. Do you believe the market is fairly pricing in the risks? Or is there the potential for gouging that are leaving a lot of people unprotected?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: So we know the insurance industry is extremely complicated, and I can't speak to the specifics because I am not an insurance expert.
I do know that people that had insurance policies -- Florida also has programs in place to make sure that they can support and indemnify these insurance companies to help them make sure that they're paying their claims.
I think that it's going to take an all-of-government approach to look at if there's any long-term issues as a result of this disaster.
Q: Residents on the ground are saying that they're waiting hours-long delay for FEMA assistance. What are you doing to bring down those times?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, so I did just get a report of a place in Charlotte County where there's long lines. That's an insurance village where the state has set up and we have sent personnel to co-locate them. It's not one of our disaster recovery centers yet. We are surging more people in there right now, as it turns out that there's a lot of people that went to this location.
As we hear about those, we're going to continue to surge people into those areas, because we know that there's a lot of people that need help. And as we start to stand these up, we know that people want to talk to somebody, right? They want to do face-to-face.
And so, we'll continue to move people in as we stand up our permanent facilities but also as we're supporting some of these.
Q: But even outside that village, just for FEMA assistance in general, like long li- -- or long waits on the phone, like, what are you doing to bring those down?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, so the -- in the very beginning days of a disaster, it's always congested. So there's a couple of things.
We actually partner with the IRS and they give us backup. So we brought them in so they can help take some of the pressure off of our system. We also surge in some of our own personnel that we have cross-trained, and so we've done that. So thousands more operators, I guess -- for lack of a better word -- have been brought in to support this.
We also have a callback option. And so, if you have a long wait, you can ask for a callback, and we will call them back.
And we also, you know, just really -- if you have Internet connectivity, one of the easiest ways is to go to DisasterAssistance.gov.
Q: Deanne, now that the disaster declaration has been extended another 30 days, do you have an estimate of how much this is going to cost the federal government?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, we are still very much in the lifesaving and stabilization mode. They are just beginning the assessments of what the actual extent of damage is to the infrastructure.
It's going to be in the billions. How many billions? I don't know yet. But it will certainly be in the billions and perhaps one of the more costly disasters that we've seen in many years.
Q: And to follow up to Francesca's question: As people do start to rebuild and reconsider where they're going to rebuild, does the White House, does the administration have any recommendations as far as rebuilding in these areas that we saw completely wiped off? Now that weather is changing, climate change is taking an impact, should they reconsider possibly building on some of those beaches and coastal areas?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, it's a fair question. And I think the biggest thing that -- from FEMA's perspective, we want to make sure people understand what their risk is so they can make informed decisions about where they want to rebuild.
Ultimately, zoning and codes and standards are a state responsibility. But our focus is going to be making sure that we educate people on what their risk is so they can make better decisions on what they're going to do as they -- if they choose to rebuild there or if they choose to go somewhere else.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what FEMA is doing to reach some of the underserved communities -- places that might not have access to the Internet, might not be able to get in touch with you as easily as some of the other places?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: We have Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams. They have been going out into neighborhoods. They walk with their iPads, and they can help people register that way.
Honestly, one of the best things is when you all give us information about some of the communities that feel like they haven't been heard. And we heard about the Dunbar community. As soon as we got that information, we sent teams out into that community and we were able to register people on the spot.
And so there's a lot of people impacted by this. Really appreciate the feedback that we get from the press to let us know if there's areas that we're missing so we can get those teams -- those Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams -- in those areas.
Q: And a question about the decision to double the amount of time for the disaster assistance. Was that a request that came from Governor DeSantis? How did that decision come? We know that, in Puerto Rico, the governor did ask for 180 days. How did that process play out?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, Governor DeSantis asked for, in his original request, 60 days. Our standard is to give 30 days until we understand what the impacts are.
In this situation, this is catastrophic. Right? And so, I'm not going to compare disaster to disaster, but this one is catastrophic. There's still many homes underwater. We want to encourage people to help remove debris faster, but we know it's going to take them a long time to get in there. And so, 60 days just seemed reasonable because it's going to take them a long time just to get into their homes and start that process.
Q: Regarding housing, some critics have accused the National Flood Insurance Program of providing incentives for people to rebuild destroyed homes and commercial property in the high-risk flood areas when, actually, they should be encouraging people to do the opposite, these critics say. Do you agree or disagree? And should the NFIP be re-examined in light of the changing climate and sea levels?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Well, I haven't read what you're talking about on the critics. But what I can say is that we recently rolled out our Risk Rating 2.0 for the National Flood Insurance Program. And what it's doing is it is pro- -- people now have to pay their premium based on their risk. And so, there's been a lot of reporting on families that have had tremendous increases in their premiums -- it's because they have great risk. Right?
And so the way the Risk Rating 2.0 program is now is: You know what your risk is, and your premiums reflect your risk. And then those individuals that don't have a greater risk, their premiums are actually coming down. They're not subsidizing these homes that have been in higher-risk areas.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your personal experience with Governor DeSantis? I know that you were down with him earlier in the week after the storm. What that experience has been like, what the cooperation has been like between the federal government and his administration.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: We have a really cohesive team that's down there. I spoke with the governor Friday, before landfall. I spent the day with him the following Friday, assessing the damage and surveying the damage. We talked about what his concerns were, what his needs are going to be. And my regional administrator, Gracia Szczech, she has been on the ground with him and the state director since before landfall.
It's a really good team down there, very focused on helping people in Florida and what their needs are.
Q: How long do you expect the initial funds to Florida to last?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: So, this disaster -- the funds are going to be there for as long as we need to support them, right? And so the categories of assistance that are turned on right now support debris removal; emergency measures like overtime, temporary repairs. As we look into the permanent repairs, it's a reimbursement process. And so as they make their repairs, we will reimburse them for the costs that they are incurring to repair the critical infrastructure, the public infrastructure. And we'll work with them until they get that completed.
Q: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. Thank you, Administrator. Appreciate it.
I don't have any -- another topper, anything at the top. Who wants to go first? Josh, you want to kick us off?
Q: Yeah, let's start off with OPEC.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Really? (Laughs.)
Q: Yeah. All right, so based off what OPEC has proposed, two questions. One, does the U.S. view Saudis as a trustworthy partner? And two, would a production cut in oil help Putin because it would raise prices, possibly?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So there was a statement on the OPEC decision that went out while we were all in the air. It came out from Jake Sullivan and Brian Deese. So I just wanted to make sure that you guys are all aware of that.
So let me just say a couple of things and just kind of lift up some of the things that came up from that -- from -- came out of that statement.
So OPEC's decision to cut productions quotas is shortsighted while the global economy is dealing with the continued negative impact of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
If there's a meaningful price impact of OPEC's decision, it will particularly be on low- and middle-income countries.
The President's efforts have made progress bringing down U.S. gas prices. Since the beginning of the summer, gas prices are down nearly $1.20. And the most common price at gas stations today is $3.29 per gallon.
The President is determined to ensure that progress continues. At the President's direction, the Department of Energy will deliver another 10 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the market next month as part of the historic 180 million barrel release the President ordered back in March. And the President will continue to direct SPR releases as necessary.
He is directing the Secretary of Energy to explore any additional responsible actions to continue increasing domestic production, which is on track to break a historic record next year. And the President is once again calling on U.S. -- U.S. energy companies to keep bringing pump prices down by closing the historically large gap between wholesale and retail ga- -- retail gas prices.
In light of today's actions -- action, the President -- the President's administration will also consult with Congress on additional tools and authorities to reduce OPEC's control over energy prices.
And lastly, today's announcement is a reminder of why it is so critical that United States reduce its reliance on foreign sources of fossil -- fossil fuels.
With the Inflation Reduction Act, we are making a historic investment in accelerating the energy -- the energy -- the transition to clean energy.
As it relates to -- to Russia, your -- your last question, first: Look, it's clear that OPEC+ is aligning with -- with Russia with today's announcement. And I'll leave it -- I'll leave it as that.
As -- as I just laid out, you know, we're dealing with a time where we're -- we are -- you know, the global markets are -- the global economy is responding to Putin's war. And so by making this decision, it is going to have an effect on low and middle -- middle economic -- economica- -- income countries. And so that is -- that is where we are today. So I'll leave it there.
And what was your first question? I missed it. I missed --
Q: Are the Saudis a trustworthy partner?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what we think is that this decision by OPEC+ is one purported self-interest -- is a mistake and it's misguided.
Q: What does this do to U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I can speak to this particular decision. And again, it's a shortsighted decision. It is -- its own purported -- it's on its own purported self-interest that OPEC+ made the decision upon. And so, we see it as mistake on --
Q: Do you see this as a --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- this particular decision.
Q: -- hostile act?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, again, I can speak to this decision. It's a mistake. And -- and I'll leave -- I'll just leave it there.
Q: And, Karine, can I give -- can you give us an update on additional sanctions on Iran?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that one more time.
Q: Additional sanctions on Iran. And can -- do you have an update on that? New --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't -- don't have any more to say on any additional sanctions. I did say this week you'll -- we'll hear more from the U.S.
But I do want to say that we have taken actions. We're making it easier for Iranians to access the Internet, including through facility greater -- facilitating greater access to secure outside platforms and services.
We're also holding accountable Iranian officials and entities, such as the Morality Police that are responsible for employing violence to suppress civil society.
And as I -- as I said, this week, the United States is going to be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters. And we'll continue to hold Iranian officials accountable in supporting the rights of Iranians to prot- -- protest freely. So when -- once we have more, we'll certainly share that.
Q: I have one more. Is President Biden willing to send humanitarian aid to Cuba after the hurricane?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So -- so we -- I do have -- we have been -- first of all, our hearts go out to --
(Air Force One experiences turbulence.) Oh my gosh, it's getting so bumpy.
Our hearts go out to the Cuban -- to Cuban people at this difficult time. And so, the U.S. continues to communicate with the government of Cuba regarding the evolving humanitarian and environmental consequences of both the hurricane -- Hurricane Ian and also the August 5th fire in the area. We are evaluating ways in which we can continue to help the Cuban people, consistent with the U.S. laws and regulations.
I don't have anything to preview at this time, but I would refer you to the State Department.
Q: Karine, a follow-up on OPEC, please? Did the administration actively try to avoid this outcome and talk to OPEC members to avoid this cutdown in production?
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: And that's got to be the last question, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, my goodness. Wow.
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: We're about to land.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
So, look, we -- and I said this yesterday. I'll just reiterate this here -- is, like, we are -- you know, we're always in touch with partners, both producers and consumers. Look, it's no secret that the President believes that energy supply should meet energy demand and that it is important for the global economy as it faces global challenges.
But, again, it is -- it should be no surprise that we are in regular touch with our partners.
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Thank you, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
Q: Did you have any reaction to Exxon reporting near-record profits?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, I do. I can give this to you really quickly. Energy companies are making record profits with refiners and retailers also posting margins that are well above -- above average.
As the President has said, these companies need to focus on passing through savings to their customers. The gap between wholesale and retail price of gasoline is too wide. Energy companies need to bring down their retail price.
Q: Karine, if I could just get one in here. You said yesterday that "We're not going to be considering new releases" from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. So what is the White House planning to do to keep gas prices from spiking?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, we've been working on this for months. The President has make -- has made -- taken historic steps to keep gas prices down.
So here's -- you know, so -- so gas prices -- we haven't -- we've seen an increase in the West and the Midwest in recent weeks because of specific refinery issues. We've called on those refiner -- refiners to operate safely but quickly come back online.
And we've -- we've been clear and said again today that U.S. energy companies must bring -- must keep bringing pump prices down by closing this historic -- historically large gap between wholesale and retail gas prices.
12:38 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/358245