January 12, 2006
Waveland, Mississippi

THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH UPON HIS VISIT TO
THE MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. Haley said that it's protocol not to introduce the President. Well, that shows what he knows about protocol. (Laughter.) He just introduced me. (Laughter.) Thanks for having me back. My first observation is, it's good to see -- to be able to look in people's eyes and not see them all bloodshot. (Laughter.)

I can remember coming here, the times I came, and looked hard in people's eyes and saw a sense of desperation and worry and deep, deep concern about the future. I'm sure there is still concern about the future, but the eyes have cleared up. There's a sense of optimism. There's a hope, there's a little bounce in people's step. I'm not surprised; the people down here have showed incredible courage. And I want to thank you for showing the rest of our country what it means to survive an incredible hardship with high spirits. (Applause.)

Your Governor has done a magnificent job. He went up to Washington -- (applause.) You know, it's nice of him to give me the credit to sign the bill. It's nice of him to compliment Congressman Taylor, who deserves to be complimented, and compliment -- (applause) -- and Congressman Chip Pickering -- (applause) -- both of whom are here, and I thank them for coming. It's wise of him to compliment Senator Lott and Senator Cochran. (Laughter.) And he's right to compliment them. But the truth of the matter is, the person who deserve the biggest compliment, in my judgment, is the man who brought the will of the Mississippi people, the needs of the Mississippi people up to Washington and fashioned one heck of a piece of legislation for the people of this important state -- thank you, Governor, for your hard work. (Applause.)

And I want to thank Marsha for being here, as well. I don't know how you put up with him for all these years. (Laughter.) You must be a patient soul. But he married well, just like me. And speaking about that, Laura sends her best wishes to all of you all. She's looking forward to coming back down here. She's not going to believe the difference between the last time she was here and today.

It's hard sometimes, unless you've got a perspective. I have the perspective of having spent some time here, but not all my time. And I can remember what was, and now what is, and I can see what's going to be, too. And it's going to be a better Gulf Coast of Mississippi. (Applause.)

I want to thank Roy Bernardi, who is the Deputy Secretary of HUD. He's going to have some stuff to do to make sure this part of the world rebounds. I like your Mayors. They're down-to-earth people. They are good, solid people. (Applause.) Mayor Eddie Favre. You know, one time a buddy of mine said, when the baseball players and owners couldn't figure out an agreement and they went on strike and quit Major League Baseball -- he said, "I'm never going back to a baseball game for 10 years." And I said, sure, you know. And he's a great baseball fan. And, sure enough, last year was his 10th year and he finally went to a game. The reason I bring that up is Eddie said, "I'm not going to wear long pants" -- (laughter) -- and I'm saying to myself, one of these days, the President is going to show up and Eddie sure enough will put on long pants. (Laughter.) I didn't know him very well. (Laughter.) I arrived here at this important school and he's got short pants on. Eddie, I like a man who sticks to his guns. (Laughter and applause.) Thanks for hosting us.

And so I'm standing in the White House at a Christmas reception, and in walks Tommy Longo. He's the Mayor of Waveland, of course. And he had on a fantastic suit. (Laughter.) I nearly fell out. (Laughter.) Tommy Longo in a suit? (Laughter.) I said, "Where did you get that thing?" He said, "It's amazing what you can find in the rubbish." (Laughter.)

I've learned something about the Mayors up and down the Gulf Coast. You've got some young Mayors east of here who have been in office, what, three or four months, and the storm hit. They were incredibly tested -- Pascagoula and other places. You got some veterans who have been around for a while, never dreamt they'd see a day like the day they saw. But whether they're veterans or rookies, all of them have stood strong. All of them have rallied with the first responders. All of them have shown great compassion to the people. I am proud of your local Mayors, your local governments, people like Rocky Pullman of the Hancock Board of Supervisors, the people working in these counties. You got some good folks down here. And one of the reasons why I'm confident about your recovery is because you've elected good people to take on the job. (Applause.)

Finally, I want to thank Brother Talbot and Brother Hingle of this fantastic school. (Applause.) Thanks for hosting us. Tommy Longo was in the class of '75. I hope that means you didn't lower you academic standards in that year. (Laughter.) He and old Doc Blanchard, they told me. Doc Blanchard went here, in case you didn't know it, the Heisman Trophy winner who carried the leather for West Point. And one of the things the Brother told me -- he said, we wanted to make sure we saved the Heisman Trophy that Doc Blanchard had made sure was housed here at this facility.

But I do want to thank you all for letting us come by. Thanks for your -- being in education; really an important part of the future of this state and this country, to make sure people get a good education.

I stood in Jackson Square early on in -- after the storm hit, and I said we're not just going to survive, but thrive. By that I meant, it's one thing to kind of ride it out; it's another thing to take out of the harm that came, convert this into a better life. I said we're not just going to cope, but we'll overcome. I meant what I said. I couldn't have said that if I didn't have confidence, though, in the people in the local area that have such a spirit to be able to do so.

I'm here to report to you some of the progress made and to let you know that people in faraway places like Washington, D.C. still hear you and care about you. Signing all the legislation I've signed, the federal government has committed $85 billion so far to helping folks and to help rebuild the Gulf Coast of -- (applause.) Of that $85 billion, about $25 billion has been spent. So $85 billion is available, $25 billion of it is already in the pipeline -- that's $60 billion more coming your way.

Part of the strategy to make sure that the rebuilding effort after the recovery effort worked well was to say to people like Haley, and the Governor or Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans, you all develop a strategy. It's your state, it's your region, you know the people better than people in Washington -- develop the rebuilding strategy. And the role of the federal government is to coordinate with you and to help.

I thought that was an important first statement to make, when people began to wonder what life would be like after the storm hit. My view is, and a lot of my political philosophy is based on, the local folks know better than the folks in Washington, D.C. (Applause.) I remember when Haley invited me down, and he said -- I think we were in a tent at that time, and there wasn't a lot of electricity, it was like an old-time daytime revival without electricity. It was hot in the tent -- it was the first meeting, I think, at least the first called meeting of the commission headed by Jim Barksdale. Citizens from all walks of life, all occupations, all aimed at one thing: putting together a strategy that will help this part of the world become even better than it was before.

I have an obligation to make sure that the federal government responds and coordinates and stays in touch with not only the commission and the Governor, but local folks, as well. And I picked a fellow that I trust, a person who's had a lot of experience, a person who understands how people think down here -- after all, he is from Texas -- he understands urban life and he understands rural life, and he knows the importance of county commissioners -- you call them county supervisors, I guess. He's a guy who's a good listener and he's got my full confidence. And that's my friend, Don Powell, who's with me today. He's going to be the federal coordinator. (Applause.) His job is to come down here and listen and report back.

And I recognize there are some rough spots, and I'm going to mention some of them here in a minute -- and we're going to work to make them as smooth as possible. The first challenge we had after the storm hit was to take care of the people that were displaced. Millions of people, or over a million people evacuated and scattered. It was an amazing period in our history, when you think about it. One day people's lives are turned upside down and they're looking for help and they're looking for compassion -- and they found it. People found it in churches, in synagogues, in community centers, in private homes. It's an amazing part of our history when you think about it. It's like there's a great capacity to absorb hurt in our country, because we've got individuals that are so decent and honorable.

The government had a role to play, and that was to get money in people's pockets. I mean, when you have to evacuate, you don't have time to plan. And so one of the first things we did was we got $2,000 in people's pockets as quickly as possible to help them. In other words, it was a response geared toward the individual. We had a special designation for all evacuees, so they can become available for Medicaid, or family services, or the federal programs. The idea was to get a response as quickly as possible to people who are scattered all over the country so they could -- to help get their feet on the ground.

We gave waivers to states. In other words, we kind of deregulated the system so states could respond quickly to the people who needed help. We provided 700,000 households with rental help. In other words, the goal is for people to be back in their homes, in a home they call their own. That's the goal. But in the meantime, we had to deal with people evacuated and people without homes. And so a part of the plan has been to provide temporary housing with rental vouchers: $390 million went out as HUD vouchers for a group of people that qualified.

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Governor Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139 Jackson, MS 39205
Phone: 601.359.3150 Fax: 601.359.3741