Bush: Federal government in 'for the long haul'
President calls for a national day of prayer
President Bush on Thursday announces immediate emergency aid to families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush promised survivors of Hurricane Katrina on Thursday that the federal government "is going to be with you for the long haul," and he called for a national day of prayer for the storm's victims.
In an address aimed at the hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by the August 29 storm, Bush outlined plans to distribute $2,000 in federal aid to every affected household for immediate needs and to supply them with long-term assistance in the months ahead.
He also promised to reimburse states for the costs associated with taking in people forced out of their homes by the hurricane, telling state leaders, "You should not be penalized for showing compassion."
And with authorities in the region warning that the storm's death toll could be in the thousands, Bush declared September 16 a national day of prayer for "those who did not survive the storm."
"I ask that we pray, as Americans have always prayed in times of trial, with confidence in His purpose, with hope for a brighter future and with the humility to ask God to keep us strong, so we can better serve our brothers and sisters in need," he said.
Bush said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross are working to distribute $2,000 debit cards to those now housed in shelters across the country, and vowed to "cut through the red tape" to make sure the aid reaches those who need it. Those who took shelter in hotels or with relatives should call FEMA or register online to get help, he said.
And he vowed to continue delivering benefits to citizens receiving federal aid from state-administered programs like Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment insurance.
"We have much more work to do, but the people who have been hurt by this storm need to know the government is going to be with you for the long haul," Bush said.
The address came after more than a week of harsh criticism of FEMA and the Bush administration over their response to the hurricane. Speaking to CNN after the speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "It's about time."
Pelosi, D-California, called on Bush to replace FEMA's embattled director, Michael Brown, who has been a lighting rod for critics since the disaster struck.
"If FEMA had reacted appropriately a week ago, there would be less cost in lives and livelihood and in homes to the people in the region, and a lot less cost to the American taxpayer," she said.
And two top Republican senators said they have urged the president to appoint an influential, outside figure to head up the long-term recovery and rehabilitation from Hurricane Katrina.
"I believe that we do need a person on the ground for a long period of time -- the six to nine months range -- that would be the person that could make decisions and cut through red tape, and I think the president agrees with that," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said after a White House meeting with GOP congressional leaders.
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