WASHINGTON – Good morning.
This week I visited Mississippi and Louisiana, and reported to the nation on our strategy to help our neighbors in these devastated areas recover and rebuild. In the aftermath of Katrina, we have seen our fellow citizens uprooted from their homes, searching for loved ones, and grieving for the dead. These scenes have touched our hearts and moved our whole nation to action. And the outpouring of compassion has sent a clear message to the victims of this storm: Our whole nation cares about you; you are not alone.
The recovery of the Gulf Coast region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen. And I have made a pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will help our citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.
Our strategy rests on three commitments. Our first commitment is to meet the immediate needs of those who had to flee their homes and leave all their possessions behind. As of this week, more than 500,000 evacuee families have gotten emergency help to pay for food, clothing and other essentials, and they will receive broader help in the future. I've asked for, and the Congress has provided more than $60 billion, an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis.
Our second commitment is to help the citizens of the Gulf Coast put their lives back together and rebuild their communities. Our goal is to get people out of shelters by the middle of October. So we're providing direct assistance to evacuees that will allow them to rent apartments, and we're beginning to bring in mobile homes and trailers for temporary use in affected areas. We'll also help provide housing for the many workers who will rebuild cities in the region, so that reconstruction can move forward quickly.
To relieve the burden on local health care facilities in the disaster areas, we're sending extra doctors and nurses, and setting up well-supplied temporary community health centers. A number of states have taken in evacuees and shown them great compassion, admitting children to school and providing health care. So I'll work with Congress to ensure the states are reimbursed for these extra expenses.
Our third commitment is to ensure that the communities we rebuild emerge better and stronger. Out of this tragedy comes an opportunity to harness the good and gracious spirit of America, and deliver new hope to neighborhoods that were suffering before the storm. Our reconstruction efforts will be guided by certain principles: When cities are rebuilt, those cities should have many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses. When houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses.
To achieve these aims I've proposed the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone in the disaster area, with immediate tax relief and other incentives for job-creating investment. And to encourage home ownership, I have proposed a new urban homesteading act, which would identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide lots to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat For Humanity.
As we rebuild homes and businesses we will renew our promise to be the land of equality and decency. And one day Americans will look back at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity, but also in character and justice.
Our citizens have responded to this tragedy with action and prayer. We ask God's comfort for the men and women who have suffered so much. We pray that the missing find safe return, and those who were lost find holy rest. And we sought the strength of the Almighty for the difficult work that lies ahead.
In the life of our nation we have seen that wondrous things are possible when we act with God's grace. From the rubble of destroyed homes we can see the beginnings of vibrant new neighborhoods. From the despair of lives torn asunder we can see the hope of rebirth. And from the depth of darkness we can see a bright dawn emerging over the Gulf Coast and the great city of New Orleans.
Thank you for listening.