Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Gainesville, Florida
11:59 A.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. Hi, hi, hi. We're going to do a gaggle with the FEMA Administrator De- -- Deanne Criswell. And I'm just going to give it right over to her to take -- she's going to have a couple of things to say at the top and then take your questions, and then we'll be done. Thanks, guys.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: All right, I'll get close. It is hard to hear back here. First, I just wanted to say when we arrive today, what the President is going to see is what I saw earlier this week. He's going to see some damaged and destroyed homes. He's going to see downed trees and powerlines. But he's also going to see communities that are working together to help and begin their recovery efforts.
While there was one tragic loss of life as a result of this storm, this storm could have been very -- so much worse. And so, before I get into your questions, I'm just going to give a little bit of an operational update on what's going on on the ground.
In total, we still have over sixteen hundred -- one thousand six hundred -- federal responders on the ground. They're supporting things like feeding and sheltering operations; power, communications restoration -- power and communications restoration; as well as public health and safety.
The search and rescue mission itself has come to an end, and I'm proud to share that our federal responders have helped save several lives in those early hours after the events.
There's approximately less than 1 percent of the state that is without power currently. But in the county that we're going to go to today where Live Oak is, 53 percent of that county is currently without power. But this is down significantly from the peak of power outages immediately following the storm.
This is largely due to the pre-positioned linemen that the state already had in place to jump into action. And we also had the Army Corps of Engineers; they are still on standby to support with generators or any other power restoration needs that may arise.
Almost all the cell towers in the area are operational, but we do have temporary cell towers that are deployed to communities where necessary to help augment. All of the interstates and bridges and the airports are currently open.
And while these response efforts continue, our recovery efforts are already going underway. We have already registered thousands of families for federal assistance to help jumpstart their recovery, and we have over 130 members from our Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams that are in the area helping communities register.
We also quickly approved Critical Needs Assistance, which is going to provide an advanced payment for many survivors for their immediate or urgent needs, as well as Clean and Sanitize Assistance, which provides funding to help them to clean their homes and prevent mold caused by the storm.
So, with that, I'll take any questions.
Q: Administrator, it seemed like from your conversations and working with Governor DeSantis's team that you had agreed on the location for the President's visit today as one that was doable with the security apparatus. Now we know the governor says otherwise. What happened?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, I was with the governor on Wednesday -- on Thursday -- on Thursday, surveying the damage, and we were down in the more rural areas. I know that the governor and the President spoke on Thursday, and our teams began to work immediately to determine an area for the President to go visit. And the area that we're going -- Live Oak -- was mutually agreed on by both the governor's team and my team on the ground.
What we look at is operational impact. In this area, the power is being restored, the roads are all open, and the access has not been hindered. And so, that's why this was a mutually agreed upon area for the President.
The President and the First Lady are really looking forward to talking to this community because this is a community -- and while this -- this incident was not widespread like Ian, this community is impacted, right? And those individuals that have damages to their homes are -- are hurting right now.
And so, the President is going to be able to come in and let them know that the federal government is continuing to provide the resources and support to help them on their road to recovery.
Q: And the governor not showing up today, is that politics at play?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, I would defer you to the governor on his scheduling and why he made that decision.
Q: When did the governor tell you he was not going to come? Did you find out when he announced it? Did he call you beforehand?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: I did not hear from the governor. Again, we've been planning this visit with his team. We've been in close coordination with his team, as well as the state and local officials, as to the details of the event today.
Q: Were there any --
Q: In terms of the meeting not happening, does that affect the recovery effort in any way? Is there anything lost other than a photo op?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: The recovery efforts are ongoing, right? And we have got a team that's been embedded with the staff at the state EOC since before the storm made landfall. They are currently there, and we're still supporting the recovery efforts from Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole from last year. And so, those efforts are not hindered, and they're continuing to work very well together.
Q: Were there any Florida emergency officials that expressed concern to you about a visit today and the operational footprint that it entails?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: I have teams that have been on the ground since I left, and we have heard no concerns over any impact to the communities that we're going to visit today.
Q: Are there any other either members of Congress or state officials planning to meet with the President --
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: I have spoken --
Q: -- despite the --
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: It's my understanding that Senator Scott and Representative Cammack are both going to be there today at the first briefing.
Q: And they have no security concerns or operational issues with meeting him?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: None that I have heard about.
Q: How confident are you in the FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to withstand another disaster that might be coming?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: As I -- as I have said before, we have been watching the health of the Disaster Relief Fund very closely. And we anticipated, at the current spending prior to this storm, that we would run into a deficit in September sometime. That's why I directed Immediate Needs Funding on Monday. We're already seeing the benefit of that, as the draw on the Disaster Relief Fund has slowed significantly.
Our focus is on making sure that we can continue to provide those lifesaving efforts. And right now, the state of the Disaster Relief Fund, we have plenty of funding in this state under Immediate Needs Funding to continue to support the lifesaving efforts going on in Florida, as well as Maui.
You know, as we see other storms develop -- the Atlantic is very busy right now -- we're going to watch this very closely each and every day.
Q: What's the biggest priority right now in Florida?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: The biggest priority is restoring the power, right? There's a lot of businesses that are without power. There's a lot of people in their homes that are without power. And so, now that the life safety mission and search and rescue has been completed, power restoration was starting from day one, but it continues, and that's the number-one priority.
Q: Administrator, just to go back to the issue of the governor. The President said in the Rose Garden yesterday that he would be seeing Governor DeSantis. So, was that just a misunderstanding? Or was it initially thought -- or your understanding and the White House's understanding -- that a meeting would take place?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: What I can say is that I know that the governor and the President spoke while I was on the ground with the governor on Thursday, and the governor gave no indication at that time that he would not be meeting with the President.
Q: Is there any- --
Q: Karine, do you want to add anything to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I would just reiterate what -- what Deanne said, which is that there was just no indication that he was not going to be there.
Look, this was a mutually agreed upon trip --
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Location.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- location from the governor's side, from our side.
And look, I'm just going to, again, reiterate what -- what the Administrator just said, which is: The First Lady and the President is looking forward to being on the ground to hear directly from the -- from folks in the affected communities and continue to say to them that we will be here -- the federal government will be here -- will be there. And you hear us say this all the -- all the time: today, tomorrow, and as long as it takes.
Look, and I -- we've been very clear about that. We're going to let the governor speak for himself. Of course, he is welcomed, right? Of course, he is welcome to be with the President today. It is up -- that -- that is something for -- for him to answer. We can't speak to that.
Q: Is there any way --
Q: But -- hold on, let me just finish mine. It is --
Q: It was -- is it fair to say it was your understanding that he would be there and then he declined?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All I can say, and as -- as the Administrator said, is that there was a conversation; the President spoke with the governor. It was an understanding that the President said to him he was coming to Florida. We never heard any -- any disagreement with it. All we understood is both sides worked together for this trip, for this location to happen today.
That's all I can say. I -- there's nothing else that I can add to that.
Again, the governor would have to speak to -- for himself.
Q: Is there any plan for the two maybe to talk now while the President is on the plane or after he concludes his visit to Florida today?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: I'm -- I'm not certain. I'd be -- turn to Karine on this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don't have any calls or anything to -- to -- planned calls or anything to -- to lay out that may be happening on this -- on this -- on this trip for them to converse while we're in Florida.
If that happens, obviously, as we always do, we will share that with all of you.
Q: So, they've publicly collaborated. They met in 2021 with a disaster, in 2022 with a disaster. What is different this time?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is a question for the governor. Honestly, we are -- our focus -- and we have said this -- you heard the President say this -- this is not about politics. It doesn't matter if it's a red state or a blue state, the President is going to show up and be there for the community. And that's what you're seeing.
He's done this many times before, sadly, when devastation hits a community the way that it -- it has. And you all -- some of you have traveled with us. I -- I just can't -- we cannot speak for that. That is something for the governor to speak to. We just can't.
Q: Is there any worry that with this, clearly, disagreement that we're seeing now, that it does impact any work on this going forward?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Absolutely not. The -- the teams on the ground, our staff from Region 4 -- our teams are integrated in with the state emergency managers. And they have a very strong relationship.
As I said, we're still supporting the ongoing recovery efforts from Hurricane Ian, which is going to be one year in just a few weeks. And so, they have a great working relationship. They're working side by side every day. We're supporting their needs and moving the resources in. There is absolutely no impact to the ongoing response and recovery.
Q: Just logistically, you said the roads are open, there is really no- -- nothing that will be taxed. I mean, is there anything else that would potentially -- you know, the governor keeps saying that it was a logistics thing, he's really worried about resources going elsewhere. Is there any other area where they -- we might be not seeing resources going where they would otherwise go?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: No, like I -- like I said, the areas that I visited with the Governor on Thursday were very coastal and rural areas. And I can understand, you know, concerns in those areas, because access was limited. And that's why our teams worked collectively to find this area. This was a mutually agreed upon area because of the limited impact. They're well on their way to the road to recovery.
And the President and the First Lady are looking forward to talking to the -- the first responders, who -- many of them have damage to their own homes, and to the community members, businesses that have been impacted. The agricultural industry, which has had a hard hit in this community, in this county, right?
The President and the First Lady look forward to talking to them and again reassuring them that the resources from the federal government are going to continue to flow into these communities to help them on their road to recovery.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. We're going to wrap it up.
Q: Do you have any -- do you have any early sense of how Florida's insurance market is responding to this disaster? I know it's been very volatile, very expensive. Any sense of how that's going?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, I don't have any information on that. The part that I would look at and the part that my teams look at is the amount of flood insurance in the area, which is the program that FEMA runs. But outside of that, I wouldn't have any details, and I'd have to get you specifics on that.
Q: Yeah, on the supplemental, you've requested $16 billion, which is four more than it was, like, three weeks ago. Do you have any confidence that $16 billion is going to be enough? Or is this number going to change?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Right, and so, this gets us through to the end of this fiscal year, right? And one of the reasons we put in the Immediate Needs Funding direction is to ensure that we can prioritize our life safety efforts.
The $12 billion that we had put in originally was based on the amount of recoveries that are ongoing. But I think, as you can see, we are experiencing more severe weather events than we have ever experienced before.
And so, I am comfortable right now with $16 billion getting us through this initial -- the rest of this fiscal year to support not only the lifesaving, but to not delay any of the reimbursements for the ongoing recovery actions that right now, through Immediate Needs Funding, will be delayed until the next fiscal year.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, everybody. Thank you.
12:12 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/364595