Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders et al. en route Washington, D.C., 8/29/2017 | Eastern North Carolina Now

Obviously, we've had a very powerful day, a strong day, mostly a very productive day with the President having the opportunity to sit down with a lot of state and local officials.

    News Release:

Aboard Air Force One En Route Washington, D.C.

    MS. SANDERS: Obviously, we've had a very powerful day, a strong day, mostly a very productive day with the President having the opportunity to sit down with a lot of state and local officials, and get some real-time updates, and talk to a lot of folks firsthand that are here and have been on the ground, and see how we can be of assistance as a federal government.

    The number-one thing after talking to him just a little bit ago that he wanted to reinforce from today was that this is all about people and making sure that we're taking care of the people of Texas. And that's his number-one priority. That's what he has instructed his Cabinet is -- their number-one priority is just making sure we do everything we can to help and take care of the people. He was very impressed, and has been, with the level of, as he said, "love" and the "spirit" and the "cooperation" that you've had with so many different people, different agencies -- state, local, and federal officials.

    And with that, I'm going to turn it over to the Cabinet Secretaries and let them give you a quick update.

    Q Can each person identify themselves for the people on the ground?

    MS. SANDERS: Yes, sir. So we can start here and we'll rotate around.

    ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: Hi, I'm Elaine Duke, and I'm Acting Secretary at Department of Homeland Security. I just want to talk a little bit about our role. We have FEMA in our department, and so I'm supporting Administrator Brock Long and the response efforts currently going on and through recovery. In addition, we have several other of our operating components working on the response to the hurricane.

    We have Coast Guard, which is doing quite a bit of search and recovery. They will be restoring the waterways, making sure the aids to navigation are there, anything that needs to be done to open the waterways.

    We have, also, Customs and Border Protection that is aiding in the rescue. And we have a surge force of DHS employees -- about 1,000 persons that come out of their routine jobs and surge with FEMA to provide support. And those are some of the areas. We also have deployed law enforcement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others to augment the law enforcement that's in the local area.

    Q What's your biggest challenge at this point?

    ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: Our biggest challenge right now is finishing the search and rescue, and then when the rains stop is getting people out of shelters and into transitional housing. You know, shelters should be used for as short a period as possible. So we're already starting the transitional housing for those that have been put out of their homes.

    Q How much longer do you think the search missions will take?

    ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: We expect the rains to end within the next 24 to 48 hours and then the water will start to go down. And we will continue looking, and until all the waters are gone, I really don't think we'll be completed with making sure we've accounted for everyone.

    Q On the transitional housing front, what is your vision for that? Is this going to be something that will encompass several states? Or do you have a sense of how large of an area will be providing transitional housing?

    ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: Yes, so transitional housing -- we try to keep people as close to their original homes as possible and get them back to their regular routine of life. So we could be looking at hotels, people sharing their homes. A lot of people have family that they can stay with. So our goal would be to keep them as close as possible to home, get schools reopened, those type of things, so people can start getting back to their regular pace of life as soon as possible.

    And then we would work with rebuilding and, if necessary, modular homes to help some people be able to stay in their land while we're rebuilding homes.

    Q How many people do you expect to be under this sort of shelter?

    ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: We don't know that yet. They apply through FEMA. I've heard about 20,000 people are in shelters -- the temporary shelters right now. That number is very fluid, but not everybody is in the shelter that will need transitional housing. So my guess is it will be much more than the number we see in the shelters. Some people will come back from wherever they're staying and look for help to get their homes repaired or rebuilt.

    Q What are the biggest lessons that DHS, and especially FEMA, learned from Katrina and from Hurricane Sandy, and from these other really big storms that have happened in the past decade or so?

    ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: I think the biggest lesson we learned was on having a continual relationship with our state and local partners. So, as you saw today, probably with our Region VI Director and Brock and his counterparts, it wasn't last Friday when we all just met each other. There are these regular relationships; we're working on them all the time with planning. So when we have to react quickly, the baseline is set and we're ready to go. And there's that partnership and that relationship that we can build on.

    And I think that was probably the number-one thing. And then also, coaching each other -- not just waiting for the state to ask or vice versa, but saying, hey, this is what we can do for you. And I think that's that relational part of planning together and being concerned about the people together.

    MS. SANDERS: Let's take one more question for Secretary Duke.

    Q Do you think in the longer term there will be a need to appoint a coordinator to kind of run this when the initial attention ebbs away?

    ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: We will have a lot of attention. So we will establish a joint field office, and that will have a federal coordinating official that we'll appoint. And their job will be to coordinate all that. We will have a major joint field office.

    In addition, from leadership and the President, he has asked all of us to make sure that we're focused. Some of us have short- and long-term responses, others. But I think that having the people you have here today, we were just sitting up front talking about how we're going to work together over the next months to years. So we're not ending it with this plane ride today.

    Thank you.

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: Hi, I'm Linda McMahon. I'm the Administrator for the Small Business Administration.

    So our goal, obviously, is to get businesses reopened. But also this is a time when SBA for the first -- not the first time -- but also -- not also -- this is a time when SBA gets involved in home mortgages as well. Ordinarily, we do not. Our loans are really guaranteed for businesses. SBA, at this point, also makes the loans directly instead of guaranteeing a loan from the lender.

    So the first step is to apply through FEMA. FEMA then makes a recommendation to send over a prospective small-business owner or homeowner that is looking for these loans to us. We then qualify them to make sure that they are able to repay the loan. And then, if that whole process turns out to be that we can then give them a loan, then we do. So the third one is processing the loan and getting their money to them.

    So it's a three-step process, and you can go to and just click on the banner. That will take you right to the application site for the disaster loan.

    Q Do you have enough money for what you need to do?

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: We have enough money to certainly get started for a good while. We'll have to see what the extent of the damages are, but clearly we are prepared to move forward with a substantial number of loans at this point.

    Q Any preliminary assessment of how many businesses might be affected by the storm and what the scope of the needs might be?

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: We don't have that yet. It's just too early to tell. You know, SBA is really probably not in the recovery process so much as FEMA is, but SBA works lockstep with FEMA. As a matter of fact, when FEMA opens a district office, SBA will be in that office as well. So people can apply in person, they can apply online, or through the mail.

    Q How do you know if somebody can pay back a loan if they've lost all their collateral, if they've lost their business?

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: Well, they must show an ability to repay the loan or we can't grant the loan.

    Q What does that mean, though? If I've lost everything, then how can I show I can pay back the loan?

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: You will have to have a good credit score, and we also look at your tax transcript to see what your ability to pay would be.

    And also, SBA, in this loan process, is not just about plant property, equipment, and inventory, but also a loss of operating capital, up to a cap of $2 million.

    Q Two million?

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: Two million. All total for all of that.

    And also, we provide up to $200,000 for homeowners and $40,000 for loss of property, even for renters -- personal property.

    Q Sorry, Steve, you asked how big the pot was?

    Q Yeah, if she had enough money, yeah.

    Q How much money have you got on hand?

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: We have lending authority right now of over $3 billion. So we're good for now.

    Q (Inaudible.)

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: Well, we'll see. We'll see. This is a devastating storm, so we're going to have to see. I couldn't answer that question now.

    Q How long does the process usually take to get a loan?

    ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON: Well, we had our first application on Sunday. We approved that homeowner's loan today. Now, that was very quick. Typically, as the volume increases, obviously it take longer. But our goal is to be able to process 100,000 applications in a 30-day period. As we gear up from the employees we have on-boarded now, which is about 900 and bringing in another 600 from our surge offices.

    MS. SANDERS: Thank you so much, Administrator.


    SECRETARY CARSON: Okay, Ben Caron, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And our role tends to be more in the recovery phase, but it's very important to be involved early on so that we have a relatively smooth transition.

    Also, there are things that we can do early on, such as helping to reallocate, or helping the state and the localities to reallocate some of the federal resources directly to disaster relief. Also, immediate relief of foreclosure proceedings; providing mortgage insurance, providing insurance for mortgages and rehabilitation through the Section 203(k) program. Also, providing loans through the Section 108 guaranteed loan program for local infrastructure needs, for rehabilitation, for economic development. And also, assessing what apartments and other living facilities are available, and we share that information with FEMA and with all the other agencies in order to facilitate placement.

    And then, of course, our long-term aim is obviously to get people back into their homes, which means that there's going to be a lot of remediation after the water recedes, looking at mold and all kinds of conditions that make it very difficult for people to live. Obviously, we're going to be involved in the ground floor in getting those things done.

    Q Is there enough space for all these people for housing?

    SECRETARY CARSON: There's always more space that can be had, and we're always looking for innovative ways in order to house people. But we will obviously, and we always do, come up with adequate space.

    Q I'm sorry, just one more thing. When you reallocate assets from one place to another, do you risk hurting the place where the money started?

    SECRETARY CARSON: Well, there's no question that you have to prioritize. And when we have an emergency like this, perhaps some other things may not be quite as important.

    Q What kind of budget priorities do you think might be made for housing in the expected request from the administration? There was like a zeroing-out of the Community Development Block Grant Program, which I understand was helpful for Katrina and Sandy victims.

    SECRETARY CARSON: Well, my conviction is no eviction, and I leave it at that. Obviously, we'll do what we need to do in order to make sure that that doesn't happen.

    SECRETARY PRICE: Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services. I think that what today was, was really an inspiring visit to a devastated area. The spirit of the people of Texas is absolutely phenomenal. And what they understand is that it takes a partnership between the local, city, county, state folks, along with the federal government. And I think the message that the President delivered [is] one of absolute support for the individuals here in Texas.

    From an HHS standpoint, our mission right now continues to be life saving and rescue. Many hospitals are getting to the end of their power-generating capacity so that they continue to have electricity, and we've been making certain that they're getting replenishment of the fuel that's necessary. The same is true for nursing homes.
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