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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Donald Powell
Federal Coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding

February 6, 2006

Donald Powell
Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure and honor to be interacting directly with so many people across the nation. Since the office officially opened in mid-November, we have been working diligently towards the President’s goal of assisting the Gulf Coast as they recover and rebuild in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes. I am confident that the Gulf Coast Region will fully recover and will see a better and brighter tomorrow.

With that said, the President has established important guidelines on what the federal role is in response to this disaster. State and local leaders must take action to develop integrated, state-wide plans, taxpayer dollars must be spent with care, strong congressional oversight and established accountability mechanisms. Finally, that the private sector be engaged with the government to create a stable, long-term and healthy recovery.

The American spirit and the resolve of the residents of the Gulf Coast are strong. The rebuilding process will not be easy or accomplished overnight, but it will be done. With the collaboration of federal, state and local governments and other key players - we will help rebuild and restore this wonderful region and revive the spirit of the Gulf Coast.

Mary, from New Orleans writes:
The people of New Orleans were stunned and disappointed by your op-ed in the Washington Post. Why did you feel a need to use a national rather than local platform to deliver your message?

What can you tell us that will give us hope for the federal government's participation in rebuilding our great city? Mary

Donald Powell
Congress has committed $85 billion to date and we have just asked for an additional $18 billion. The President has consistently said that the vision for rebuilding should work from the bottom up – meaning the local and state officials, who best understand the needs of the region, should determine the best solutions, not Washington. Our opinion piece was placed in the Washington Post, because the Post, among other national papers, had weighed in heavily on the issue and we felt it was an important venue for communicating our views to policy makers in Washington. We correspond and work with local press on a daily basis and keep them informed of new developments in the federal response to Gulf Coast rebuilding. Local and regional press are important allies in this effort and I intend to continue to communicate with them through the entire process. We also believe that all Americans – from coast to coast - are interested in the rebuilding effort. It is important to remember that this is a national issue with federal dollars being spent everyday in the implementation of the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.

Julie, from Tampa, Florida writes:
Please tell me that you are going to repair the levee systemand rebuild the gulf coast. They are treasure too good to lose. I am from New Orleans and there is no where like it.

Donald Powell
I could not agree more, Julie. The President is, first and foremost, committed to the safety and security of the people in the Gulf Coast. We understand that any hope of rebuilding can only be realized when people feel safe. We will continue to work to bring the best solutions to the table while ensuring a wise investment of taxpayers’ money. Congress has allotted $85 billion and we’ve asked for an additional $18 billion just last week. We recognize this as a top priority which is why we asked Congress to double funds for levee reconstruction and edifications. The Army Corp of Engineers is on track to repair the breaches and correct design flaws by the start of the next hurricane season and further enhancements will continue to be made. If we believe further investments are needed, we stand ready to do what is necessary to fulfill our commitment. So, there is no doubt in my mind that we will not lose this treasure – but restore it to its full luster and shine.

Thomas, from T,N, writes:
Why are you called the Federal Coordinator.

Donald Powell
In the aftermath of disaster, the President created the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding to help coordinate the federal response to rebuilding the hurricane-devastated region.

My job is to identify the priority of needs for long-term rebuilding by working with the people on the ground, communicating those realities to the decision makers in Washington, and advising the President and his leadership team on the most effective, integrated, and fiscally responsible strategies for a full and vibrant recovery. I will then help provide thoughtful and coordinated federal support to the affected areas.

Garrett, from Lorian,OH writes:
Do you think the gulf coast will ever be the same as it was before the hurricane and if so how long do you predict it to take?

Donald Powell
I believe that the Gulf Coast will be better than it was pre-Katrina and Rita. The expectations for this can sometimes be unrealistic. It is hard to put a timeframe on rebuilding an entire region and it is important that we do it right – starting with making sure plans are developed by the people in the region. We will continue to work with the Gulf Coast states to identify their needs and help provide the most effective and responsible solutions. Together we will lay the foundation for a bright future for the region.

Celsey, from Center Point, IA writes:
Mr. Powell, where will the funding for the GO Zone Act be coming from?

Donald Powell
The GO Zones are not spending programs. What are sometimes called "costs" are actually estimated revenue losses associated with specific tax benefits for which certain classes of businesses and individuals are eligible in the affected areas. For example, the legislation provides a modified version of the Administration's proposal to double small business expensing of investments in new equipment and allows 50 percent bonus depreciation for businesses. The goal is to provide incentives to businesses and individuals to encourage faster growth and development which would, in turn, generate revenue for the state and create more jobs. We believe these tax breaks will bear much fruit for the future strength of the region’s economy.

Shane, from Montague Michigan writes:
How will the Federal Government provide for those people who remain homeless and unemployed as a direct result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita?

Donald Powell
There are monies available to ease the transition of these people from a number of different government agencies. Billions of dollars of aid have already been provided in temporary housing and other immediate assistance, and emergency response work continues through FEMA and other disaster relief agencies. Rental assistance and other temporary housing benefits are provided to those in need who are unable to return to their homes. Those eligible for federal benefits have had provisions made to continue to receive those benefits despite their dislocation. The Department of Health and Human Services supports needy people through community outreach programs.

We are also working hard to provide support for those left unemployed by the disaster. GO Zone tax incentives will help local businesses get back on their feet and start providing jobs and paychecks. Our Workforce Training Initiative—a joint public/private initiative to train workers in the skilled trades necessary to the rebuilding process—will give 20,000 people from the region the opportunity to be employed and to contribute to the restoration of their own communities.

And those who cannot work aren’t being forgotten. FEMA recently awarded a grant for case management of an initial group of 100,000 individuals and families who need assistance with housing, employment, federal aid or other types of support to return to the region and get back on their feet. This process will be coordinated through a network of charities and non-profits in the region. More information on this is available by visiting

Scott, from Durham, NH writes:
What can students in New Hampshire do to help the victims displaced by the storms?

Donald Powell
It’s great to see the American spirit so alive in our younger generation. I commend you, Scott, for your willingness to help and serve those that are in need. One way to get involved is to help support kids from the region that have been displaced and lost their homes and schools. Please visit the US Department of Education’s Web site that has been specifically designed for students to get involved. The program is called Hurricane Help for Schools and you can find more information at on how you can help.

Donald Powell
Thank you for all your questions. I hope that these answers have helped you understand the President’s commitment to the Gulf Coast Region and my role as the Federal Coordinator. As I said, the rebuilding process will not be easy or accomplished overnight, but it will be done. We will continue to work hard to help restore the Gulf Coast, a great American treasure.

I look forward to updating you on our progress in future on-line chats. Thank you for your time.

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