President Joe Biden pledged his support to Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Fiona during a speech in Ponce on Monday, October 3.
During the speech, Biden said he is determined to help Puerto Rico build back stronger and faster.
Biden added that the federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of clearing debris, conducting search and rescue operations, and continuing to shelter people. He also announced more than $60 million in funding to help coastal areas in Puerto Rico become better prepared for storms.
“I want the people of Puerto Rico to know I’m committed – my entire administration is committed – to standing with you every step of the way. As long as it takes," Biden said. Credit: The White House via Storyful
JOE BIDEN: Well, my name is Joe Biden. And I don't want the headline to read, "Biden brings storm to Puerto Rico." So I'm going to maybe have to cut this a little short. Let me start off by saying that Jill and I-- and thank you very much for that lovely introduction.
Jill and I are, we're anxious to be here. You know, I come from a little state, the little state of Delaware. It's not like the Congresswoman from New York. She's in the big state.
But we have a very-- in relative terms-- large Puerto Rican population in Delaware, relative to our population. We have the eighth largest Black population in the country. And between all minorities, we have 20% of our state is minority. And so I was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically.
And so when we came here for a long time, both for business and pleasure, since you're part of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Delaware is as well and I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I spent a lot of time in the northern part of the state. But, look, it's people like you who do so much for your community and are going to make such a big difference as Puerto Rico rebuilds.
Thank you, Governor, for your partnership as we work together to help rebuild Puerto Rico. And I mean rebuild it all and rebuild it in a resilient way, so you know when storms come again, which they will, they're not having the damage they caused before.
And I want to thank the members of Congress, local officials, community leaders have joined us today. Ever since the hurricane struck, Jill and I have had people in Puerto Rico on our minds and in our prayers. We came here in person to show that we're with you. All of America is with you as you receive and recover and rebuild. I'm confident we're going to be able to do all you want, Governor. And I'm committed to this island.
Puerto Rico has been through so much in recent years. Hurricane Maria, five years ago, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, two years ago, the folks slept outside four days worried about their homes would collapse on them if they went in, then COVID-19, and then Fiona. And, yes, Puerto Rico is a strong place. And Puerto Ricans are a strong people.
But even so, you have had to bear so much, more than need be. And you haven't gotten the help in a timely way. And this latest storm dealt a serious blow to all the hard work that have been done since Maria. Roads and bridges built after Maria have been washed away again. Families who spent their savings to build new homes after losing their last ones have seen them flooded away, crops decimated, farms destroyed. Here in Ponce and communities nearby have hit-- have been hit the hardest.
And in days, for days, people, people live without power, without water, some still [INAUDIBLE] no idea when it'll be back again. And for everyone, everyone who survived Maria, Fiona must have been an all-too-familiar nightmare. You know better than anyone that over time, these losses add up. And so Puerto Ricans have lost loved ones in the storm and in the perilous disasters. And the number can feel abstract sometimes, you hear a number. But every number is a person, every life lived.
We read the obituaries and remembrances and they all feel like people we knew-- doting grandparents, devoted parents, christened children, longtime neighbors, people who cared about their community and made a difference. And they will not be forgotten. And then through these disasters, so many people have been displaced from their homes, lost their jobs and savings, or suffered injuries, often unseen, but many times seen.
Yet somehow, the people of Puerto Rico keep getting back up with resilience and determination. Quite frankly, it's pretty extraordinary when you look it from afar. And you deserve every bit of help your country can give you. That's what I'm determined to do and that's what I promise you.
After Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars for Puerto Rico, much of it not having gotten here initially. We're going to make sure you get every single dollar promised. And I'm determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger and better prepared for the future. And that's why I approved emergency declaration of Puerto Rico before the hurricane, Governor. Remember my call on you before the hurricane made landfall to deliver immediate federal funding to shelter people and provide a sense of support.
Just a few days later, I approved an expedited major disaster declaration. That means federal government will cover 100% of the cost to clear debris and carry out search and rescue and can continue to shelter people. It also means homeowners, renters, business owners are eligible to apply for federal help to recover damage losses caused by Hurricane Fiona.
The federal government is going to provide individual assistance for up to $37,900 for essential home repairs, and another $37,900 for lost property, as the law calls for, like a car or refrigerator. Additionally, we've deployed more than 1,200 personnel from FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the US Coast Guard, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency. They include search and rescue, teams to assist survivors, and power restoration experts.
Power is now back, as you pointed out, Governor to 92% of the island. And water is back to 95% of the island, thanks, in part, to the dedicated IBEW workers and federal support staff. Now we have to get to 100%.
And here at this facility, you can see some of the generators from FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers that we're transporting to places that still don't have power. Here, they're loaded onto trucks and brought to locations in the hospitals and shelters paired with fuel trucks so generators can be gassed up on site. My administration is also providing financial assistance to help families and individuals right away.
Many families are scrambling to pay their bills right now, to fill up their gas tank, to put food on the table. They can register at FEMA, cash assistance for $700 to help cover the essentials for just a little while. So far, nearly 200,000 households across Puerto Rico have received this cash assistance. $700 won't replace what you lost, not even close. But it can help take care of some of the little basics while you catch your breath and get back on your feet.
And FEMA has made crisis counselors available. Whether you're a survivor or a first responder, if you need help or just someone to talk to, people are here for you. The hotline number is 800-981-0023. I'll say it again, 800-981-0023. Don't be embarrassed to call. Whether you're Spanish or English-speaking, counselors will be standing by to help you.
At times like these, Americans come together. And I'm grateful for our personnel of FEMA and other agencies for the hard work these past few weeks. Many of our FEMA staff, as you pointed out, are from Puerto Rico, are Puerto Rican. They've been working 24/7 to get help to people across the Island while also scrambling to help their own families and neighbors.
I want to recognize the local first responders, including Puerto Rican National Guard, who have been working around the clock. And I mean it literally, around the clock.
They've been through a lot the past five years. I want to applaud the Red Cross volunteers who came as far from as far away as California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas to help however they can. And New York sent not only a Congresswoman, the most Congresswoman in the Congress, but state troopers and emergency responders. I don't think you're going to stay the whole time, right?
Anyway, all kidding aside, New Jersey sent their all hazardous and management teams trained for hurricane responses. These states are home to two of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the United States, New York and New Jersey. And their sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico needed them. And they answered the call.
Most of all, I want to recognize the heroism and selflessness of so many people across Puerto Rico. The main story that has been reported is the storm. But there's another story, what ordinary people did when the storm hit.
Literally, the day after the hurricane, the day after, churches and community organizations opened a network of kitchens across the Island to cook hot food for anyone who needed it. Folks delivered food to the elderly who were housebound. They started their generators-- they shared their generation with neighbors who had medicine that needed to be refrigerated. They organized activities for kids to give their exhausted parents a break.
They arranged canvasses to bring food, water, and other supplies and commodities to communities cut short as a consequence of landslide and flooding that couldn't be reached. And during the storm when the waters were rising, people went to extraordinary lengths to help each other, help each other survive. We've seen people using a raft and a boat tied to a rope to brave the raging waters and rescue neighbors trapped in their homes.
You know, they aren't paratroopers or search and rescue professionals. They're neighbors. They're just regular folks ready and willing to do whatever they could do when their help was needed, when their neighbor was in trouble. And thanks to them and all the people of Puerto Rico, this recovery from Fiona is underway.
I'm encouraged by all the stories that are opening up, the hospitals that have kept running, the supply chains that held steady. And the debris has already begun to be cleared on roads across the island. And we will continue the debris coverage. Still, we have to do more.
We have to ensure that when the next hurricane strikes, Puerto Rico is ready. Today, I'm announcing more than $60 million in funding to help coastal areas in Puerto Rico become better prepared for the storm.
For example, we can create a flood warning system to help shore up levees and flood walls. In addition, there's nearly $700 million infrastructure investments in Puerto Rico that have already been announced since I signed the bipartisan infrastructure law last November.
For example, we've awarded $90 million to upgrade PR to highway. And we've announced $163 million to begin construction on the canal to restore-- canal-- help me with the pronunciation--
JOE BIDEN: [SPANISH] that entire ecosystem. And we're going to clean up polluted waters and restore mitigation-- mangrove habitat, mangrove habitats and bring back marine life. And you're going to see investments like these increasing significantly in the months ahead. We're investing in Puerto Rico's roads, bridges, public transit, ports, airports, water safety, and high speed internet.
We know that the climate crisis and more extreme weather are going to continue to hit this island and hit the United States overall. And as we rebuild, we have to ensure that we build it to last. We're particularly focused on the power grid. This year, to date, Puerto Rico has received $4 million to help make the power grid more resilient.
That number is going to go up as we conveyed to the governor, I'm ready to deploy an expedite more resources from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies, not just-- I don't usually talk this fast, but it looks like it's moving quickly-- to help transform the entire system and so Puerto Rico the Puerto Rican people can get clean, reliable, affordable power they need and the power stays in the homes and hospitals when storms like Fiona strike.
That includes mini grids, which we can begin to deploy soon so we are less dependent on transmission lines across the long distances and more redundancy when the storms hit. The goal is lower energy bills and more reliable power for Puerto Rican households. Additionally, I've asked the Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, who is a first-rate person, to lead a supercharged effort across the entire federal government.
She's going to put in place the Puerto Rican Grid Recovery Modernization Team to bring to bear all the federal resources and technical assistance and additional support for Puerto Rico. And we'll help as you work to repair your grid quickly and drive decisive progress on the game plan for Puerto Rico's clean energy transformation.
You know, I also know many people in Puerto Rico have many family friends and friends in Florida. Your hearts are with them right now. And their hearts are with you.
Jill and I will be in Florida on Wednesday. As I've made clear, at times like these, our nation comes together, put aside our differences, our political differences, and get to work. We show up when we're needed.
Because if we lost our home, if we lost a loved one, we'd hope that people would show up for us as well. And I want the people of Puerto Rico to know, I'm committed, my entire administration is committed to standing with you every step of the way as long as it takes.
At the White House reception honoring Hispanic History Month, a US Army chaplain, a Catholic priest, proud son of Puerto Rico, offered a prayer for all those who suffered through the hurricane, including Puerto Rico. Here's what he said. He said, "Give us generous hearts that we may continue to use our gifts to support them." Well, the people of Puerto Rico have generous hearts. And that's what they get through this, we return to generosity. And that's the generous hearts that the rest of the country are going make sure we continue to provide.
But I want to say it again, we are not leaving here, as long as I'm president, until everything-- I mean this sincerely-- until every single thing that we can do is done. God bless you all. And for all of you who are hurting and may God protect our troops and all those brave souls that risked their lives to help others survive this tragedy. And I usually don't quite talk this fast, but it looks like we made it. Thank you very much.
And now I want to bring up [INAUDIBLE]. I was up in New York with the mayor and with the governor. And what they wanted to talk to me about, they wanted to talk to me about Puerto Rico.
- Ah, you see.
JOE BIDEN: No, we sat there.
JOE BIDEN: And so [INAUDIBLE] is one of the best congresswomen in the-- congresspersons in the entire Congress. And she-- were you born here?
- Yes, I was born here. And my family, my entire family is here.
JOE BIDEN: Is here? All right, I hope I'm not catching trouble.
- Nine brothers and sisters.
JOE BIDEN: Nine brothers and sisters, well, god bless you. I tell you what, my mother used to think that anybody who had that many children-- we only had four-- she'd say no purgatory for mom, straight to heaven. Thank you.
- Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being here.
JOE BIDEN: Thank you.
- We love you.
JOE BIDEN: Thanks, everybody. We're going to get this done. We really are.
You're going to move me quickly, OK, thanks, everybody. I really mean it. Thank you very much.