September 5, 2021
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Following Visits to Communities Impacted by Ida Flooding, Governor Hochul Signs Request for Expedited Major Disaster Declaration

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Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Following Visits to Communities Impacted by Ida Flooding, Governor Hochul Signs Request for Expedited Major Disaster Declaration
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Request Seeks Federal Financial Relief for Local Governments and New Yorkers—Once Approved, Declaration Would Deliver Individual and Public Assistance to New Yorkers Recovering from Damage of Hurricane Ida

New Yorkers Who Have Been Displaced, Including Uninsured Families, Would be Eligible for Funds for Housing Assistance, As Well As Crisis Counseling, Unemployment Assistance, Home Repairs, and Legal Services

Governor Hochul Launches New Online Resource Hub at ny.gov/ida Where New Yorkers Can Seek Additional Information on Available Assistance Programs and on Accessing Shelter and Food

Governor Hochul Directs $378 Million in Previously-awarded Hazard Mitigation FEMA Funds Toward Bolstering New York State's Infrastructure Against Extreme Weather

Department of Financial Services Sites Located in Yonkers, Mamaroneck, and all Five New York City Boroughs, Including in East Elmhurst, to Assist New Yorkers Filing Insurance Claims

Photos from the Governor's Visits to Impacted Communities in East Elmhurst are Available Here and Here, in Inwood Here, in Mamaroneck Here, in Yonkers Here, and on Staten Island Here 

Earlier today, following her visits to communities impacted by flooding from Hurricane Ida, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a request to President Biden for an expedited Major Disaster Declaration. With Presidential approval, the declaration would deliver individual and public assistance for eligible New Yorkers recovering from the storm's damage. Through the declaration request, the Governor is requesting that New Yorkers who have been displaced or suffered damage as a result of the storm, including those who did not have flood insurance, can receive the assistance they need. The Governor also announced the launch of the new online resource hub for impacted New Yorkers, available at ny.gov/ida. The hub provides information on available assistance programs and where to find services such as shelter and access to food. The information on the site will be updated as more resources for New Yorkers become available. Additionally, the State is partnering with New York City to support the Ida Recovery Service Centers. These centers enlisted the support of elected officials who represent impacted communities and will offer information on all available resources and assistance.

Governor Hochul also directed that $378 million in previously-awarded hazard mitigation funding from FEMA be devoted to bolstering New York State's infrastructure against extreme weather.

VIDEO of today's remarks is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of today's remarks is available here.

PHOTOS are available on the Governor's Flickr page.

A rush transcript of today's remarks is available below:

Governor Hochul: Good morning, and thank you for coming out on what I'm told is a holiday weekend. I want to, first of all, thank Patrick Murphy, our commissioner of the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, for all the work that he has done helping us navigate the turbulent waters that we've experienced since the heavens broke loose just a few days ago on Wednesday night. Christian Jackstadt, the deputy director of New York State operations and infrastructure. And these are part of our team that have been working tirelessly. I want to thank my own team for their continuation in this unrelenting work we've done in the last number of days since I've been Governor, but it's really important work for the people.

I also want to thank all the first responders, from the state, from the county and local officials, who've just put themselves on the line once again, showing up where they're desperately needed at a time when their fellow citizens are literally crying for help. So thank you and my hearts go out to all the first responders and their families for the sacrifices they make over and over and over. And to the media for keeping a spotlight on the challenges that our citizens have faced and how to alert people to what they can do to take cover, and to let them know that the situations were rather dire, so thank you to everyone involved in this.

The first step I'd like to take this morning is to sign a declaration. I've asked for an expedited major disaster declaration. Thank you, and I need a pen to do that, so let's get that pen right up here. As you all know, I asked for an emergency declaration initially from the federal government. That was granted without any difficulty. Well, what comes next? We had to do an overall damage assessment and you have to meet a $30 million state threshold in order to qualify for the additional FEMA assistance. Unfortunately for us, that number, we shattered that number. We're at least $50 million in damages and we anticipate the numbers to go up, but that did trigger the threshold that we are eligible to apply for a major declaration assistance.

What that gets us is funding for people who've been displaced, and I'll talk about those individuals because I met many, many people who are in desperate straits this week and have a lot of needs ahead of them that we're going to deal with. It gives funds for temporary housing assistance, crisis counseling, unemployment assistance, home repairs, and legal services. And I'm going to sign this as we speak. So this can get right to President Biden, who we'll be seeing here on Tuesday, get to our FEMA office, and that's the official work I wanted to get done today is to give our request for a Presidential major disaster declaration. And I'll hand this off to you, sir, to Patrick right there, and get it over there, get a bike, whatever it's going take to get you there fast. I want that in the President's hands, FEMA's hands, as soon as possible.

Let me just give you an overall assessment of where we've come in the last days, since the horrific events of Wednesday evening, when we literally saw record-shattering rainfall, but the record-shattering is almost an anomaly because we set the record a week before, literally 10 days before we had accumulated 1.93 inches of rain in Central Park. We shattered that record with over 3.1 inches. This is per hour, my friends, this is not overnight, this is not over day, this was per hour. And that led to a particularly dire situation where between 8:51 p.m. and 9:51 p.m. The heavens broke loose, the city was overwhelmed, the streets couldn't handle the flow of the rivers, people's lives were in danger. Literally you saw cars turned into boats. And they're meant to be boats, and a lot of them just didn't make it and were damaged. We also had a significant loss of life for this area where people were held captive and trapped in their homes.

And for me, this is very emotional. I went to those homes. I saw where people lived. I saw how they had no escape route. When they lived in a basement home, it was their home, it wasn't large, it wasn't fancy, but this was their home. And what happened was many people going to bed early, someone like Murphy, who I met in East Elmhurst, was already in bed, sound asleep, down for the night. And unbeknownst to him, the waters crept in, crept in, the water was going up higher and higher. And all of a sudden, the two basement windows crashed open and Murphy had to swim for his life, and the water got up over his neck, and this is a person a lot taller than I am. Literally our first responders banged down the window, reached in and grabbed him and saved his life. That's just one example of the countless stories that New Yorkers have heard over this time. So a lot of questions are raised by this. I have a lot of questions, and I'm looking for answers.

And what I'm going to do is talk about what we're going to do to first of all, help the people, the 1,200 homes that have been impacted by this storm. And again, the damages that have been undertaken by our infrastructure systems and our public property. I did a lot of time on the ground. I'm the type of person, you'll understand, who absorbs by seeing people, touching people, speaking to people, having an eyewitness account that I needed to have as I went from Great Neck and saw heroic individuals on the ground trying to uncover, excavate, it looked like an archeological dig, trying to bring back our train station, the LIRR when it was underground.

I went up to Yonkers, literally saw what looked like one of those California mudslides, where they wipe out the entire coast, and our train system, the Metro-North was decimated, still trying to uncover the remains of the tracks and to make them safe again. I also went to Staten Island, went down a street, saw little kids' shoes in puddles, outside, and walked into some of the homes and realized these people's lives were forever altered. Some of them didn't know what had happened, mothers were in tears, grandmas were in shock. I love Staten Island, went over to East Elmhurst. I saw an alley. It went down a decline. You could see the vulnerability of all the homes right there, where people are at these almost ground level basement homes. And the people came out in the streets. My God, they were so optimistic and upbeat, but some of them were just so traumatized as well. And one woman wept in my arms, 89-year-old woman, told me she didn't know how she was ever going to come back. She had nothing left. She had nothing. After living in that home for 40 years.

The human toll, my friends, was tremendous. And that is why I feel so motivated. So motivated to take dramatic action, because in my opinion, I'm not going to wait for someone to tell me that the climate change effect on our weather is in the future. I'm not going to have someone tell me that these events are every 100 years, 500 years, thousand years. In my mind, after what I witnessed firsthand and the lives we lost, 17 New Yorkers no longer with us because of the weather, I'm operating under the assumption that this could happen again in another 10 days.

Are we prepared for this to happen again in 10 more days? What steps can we take immediately? What can we build on? What was done right? What needs to be done much, much better? And I believe there has to be a better warning system for people who are in their homes. We know where they are, and whether they're certified and approved by a building inspector or not, doesn't matter, there's a human being living in there, multiple human beings living in that space. And we need a system that's going to alert them, not just in English, but in multiple languages to let people know that they are in danger. That's what happened in people, in Asian communities and Hispanic communities where they may have not even understood the warning. Let's get people understanding the challenges earlier. Next, what happened, unlike what we saw with coastal storms, and we built back tremendous resiliency after Superstorm Sandy, yes, we invested the money, invested the dollars. Those areas were not compromised this time, and that is the good news story, that we have tools, weapons in our arsenal, to fight back when we're at war with mother nature.

We saw what the success of the coastal resiliency. But no one anticipated a different dynamic. It's not the wave actions off the sound or off the ocean. It's when the heavens break loose, and multiple storm systems converge. And they drop a Niagara Falls level of water on our city. How do you prepare for that? What I saw when I was up in Inwood, that local officials know where the flooding will happen in an event. They know the drains that are not functioning. They know what happens when there's too much garbage accumulated and clogging the drains. And maybe they're never going to be able to handle this volume very well, if it goes to three inches to five inches, but let's hit a baseline. Then we can handle a certain level with infrastructure improvements.

So I have identified $375 million that I want to dedicate to building back resiliency. And I have the ability to determine where it goes. I'll be working with our city officials and the I was with them because I was local officials, the members of Congress that I was walking the streets with, our senators, our Assemblymembers, our City Council members. I was with them because I was on the ground and they know more than anyone, where the vulnerabilities are, they know their streets, so I'm asking all of our local elected officials, tell me where the challenges are. Tell me what you know could happen in a week from now if the same weather event happened, and we will go right to those places first. We'll take our teams, our engineering teams, our damage surveillance teams and figure out a game plan to use this money as soon as humanly possible to start fixing the infrastructure that has been damaged or is a vulnerability going forth. And that also includes the streets surrounding our subways.

The good news is that the subway stops and stations that had been built back after Sandy, they resisted the storm, again, telling us that there are ways that we can fight back. But there were far too many stations, and we know exactly where they are, where the work needs to be done to help them be prepared so the streets can handle a higher volume of water so it does not go rushing down the staircases of our subway system. And thank God more people didn't lose their lives in our subways. That could have been a trap situation. We could have lost people there and I don't ever want to get that close again to the potential loss of human life on our transportation systems.

So we were also making sure that people on the ground have assistance. When I went to that alleyway in East Elmhurst Friday, I was there with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, I was there with Senator Ramos, and our local officials, other local officials, and we walked down there we realized they need people on the ground immediately to help them fill out the paperwork for the FEMA assistance. Twenty-four hours later, I was back, back again, had the truck from the Department of Financial Services to make sure there are people on the ground to help them. There were 50 people lined up, the people I just met the day before, I said, I told you, I wouldn't forget you. I told you I'd be back and here is help on the ground right now. And we brought a food truck because no one has a kitchen that functions and they can't go back to their houses. People are literally hungry in our own city.

So we addressed that immediate neighborhood, but I'm amplifying that all over. And when I heard from our hardworking government workers that they were getting overwhelmed by the number, I said, all right, we'll bring in the National Guard, train the National Guard today, tell them how to fill out the paperwork, tell them how to help these people, particularly where there's a language barrier.

So I am that hands-on that I want to be targeted, bring all the resources to bear, to help these people who will now need help getting their lives back in order, finding that shelter, finding food, finding new sneakers for their little kids to wear. And ultimately getting that FEMA assistance and what I'm requesting from the President is what is known as not just the public assistance, but the individual assistance that will give direct money for people to rebuild their homes. If they should do it there, and that's a whole other question, where they should be rebuilding, but allow them to start having some semblance of a normal life. They're in temporary shelters. Now we also have to examine how long they can stay there and whether that's the best place for individuals.

So the human impact was extraordinary. It felt like a humanitarian crisis in another country, and this is the State of New York. There's also an online resource hub for those who still have connectivity, and I'm not assuming they all will. I'm encouraging people to go to ny.gov/ida. I mean I don't like the word Ida anymore. I don't ever want to see the word Ida again. That brings back a very bad flashback. No one can change that. That's how we'll get as digital assistance for applying for FEMA funds.

So I'm really hoping as I spoke to President Biden, that we can get immediate approval for what I just signed here now, that we get the extra money flowing to help us build our infrastructure, but not just the infrastructure capital. It's the human capital that needs to be brought back. I don't ever again, as Governor or in my lifetime, want to see people in pain the way I did over the last few days. No one should ever have to experience that. It was not their fault. They were victims. And it's up to all of us to build the resiliency, give them hope, but more than hope, give them help. And that's what we've been doing nonstop and we will continue until we make sure everyone has what they need.

Are there any questions? First I want to ask Pat Murphy to give an overall assessment of what we've deployed on the ground and also the status of some of the transportation lines.

And with respect to the subways, I'm not addressing that completely here today because I want to have a little more time to do an overall assessment of what happened with the subway system and I'll be doing a press conference in the near future with the MTA officials right here so we can get to the bottom of this, but we're still trying to get all the services restored and I want to make sure that they stay focused on service restoration. So, you know, it is a holiday weekend, but certainly by Tuesday morning that we have 100 percent. We have very good service right now. It's not great. It's not 100 percent and I want to get to 100 percent as soon as possible.

So Patrick Murphy, our Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Commissioner Patrick Murphy: Thank you, Governor, and thank you for your decisive action in regards to the request for major disaster declaration. The people that we serve will benefit I think greatly from actions that you've taken.

I want everybody know that the response to the disaster is not over. We continue to have the operation center open 24/7 at this point, continue to coordinate the activities of the state agencies and authorities to bring recovery efforts to everyone that needs them

At the governor's direction, we had pre-positioned many assets ahead of the storm, just as a normal heavy rain event, not anticipating the three inches per hour that did occur. But with those we readied and pre-positioned state assets through the Hudson Valley and into New York City as well.

Just an example of that would be the swift water teams that are made up of the Office of Fire Prevention and Control, State Police, Department of Environment and Conservation, Park Service, those teams were in place at the time that the rains started and were used and maneuvered during that time, to work with the local responders and to actually evacuate and rescue at least a hundred if not more people, and then all of the rescues that the teams of the locals did as well.

So we want to continue that process and in the future as we go forward. That pre-positioning led to positive results, obviously. At the, peak of the storm, we had over 52,000 customers without electrical power. Today we can say that we are below 500 storm effected outages. The main lines are back up, rapid recovery from the power companies, but those that are still out, which everyone is working towards solving, but they're on the customer end. There are homes that were severely affected, and so to reenergize that home is problematic but we will continue the work to get there.

From a standpoint of city subways as the governor suggested the subways have resumed nearly normal activity. Metro-North up through the Hudson Valley up through the Hudson Valley is still suspended service because of the amount of debris that slid off banks down over the tracks, and that work will continue and does today. Also, things like the Long Island Rail Road and others are back up and running as well. We will continue to clean up the road networks. All roads are essentially back open. We've got some stoplight work on a couple of roads in terms of single lane. But the road networks are back up as the water cleared off. The Department of transportation was a very timely and in cleaning up those roads and getting them reopened.

If in fact anyone still has a question about roads that are out or what the progress is, they can take a look at, 511NY.org to get real time updates on those roads as well. From here, we have partnered with the locals and the federal agencies, especially at FEMA and they are great partners of ours and we will continue to work with them to provide resources back into the communities. The disaster assistance centers will be opening. We've already got some sites open today and they will continue to open and as with any disaster, we will continue to be engaged with the local and federal partners and to continue the recovery effort until everyone is touched. So with that Governor, thanks for allowing me to give an update.

Governor Hochul: With that, I'll take any questions on topic first and then we'll go to off topic.

Question: The document you just signed. Can you explain exactly what it does? What does it trigger and how is it different from the other emergency declaration [inaudible] president signs? I'm a little unclear.

Governor Hochul: The first one just says we're in a state of emergency, stay tuned, basically. That is a statement of the severity of the situation. I did a statewide one the night of the disaster. We got it off to the federal government as well. And what this next one is all about the money, and we needed a little bit of time to calculate the damages. They're not precise, but we have to demonstrate, first of all, as I've been through countless disasters, you have to have the threshold hit $30 million statewide first. We broke that minimum of $50 million, so that is in place, but the part that I'm most interested in is not just the infrastructure money, but something that is not always allocated in disastrous situations is the individual assistance.

This allows people to have temporary housing, but also to rebuild. Many people don't have insurance. We know they don't have insurance and the families I spoke to yesterday, some of them literally had just replaced water heater from the storm the week before and saw a brand new one getting yanked out of a house again. So they don't have the money to do. So this'll help them if they're going to rebuild in place, or after we do a structural analysis, find out, is it even safe to go back to that building? Is that basement no longer habitable? And then I'm going to be saying, where are we putting them? And my answer will be, we need to build more affordable housing, but that won't be done in time.

So it's about temporary housing assistance, food vouchers, rental, right now, they're in hotels and this'll help reimburse for the hotel expenses. I want to make sure that these are hotels, and again, we activate all this with the pandemic so we know how to get people safely, people who had to quarantine into hotels. So was there anything else, Patrick, that I missed in terms of—

Question: Is this state money or federal money?

Governor Hochul: Federal money.

Question: Is there an approval process or this frees it up automatically?

Governor Hochul: No, it's not automatic. This has to be approved by President Biden. President Biden will be here on Tuesday.

Question: So the document itself doesn't do that.

Governor Hochul: No, no. This is a request. What I put in was a major disaster declaration request for assistance from FEMA.

Question: Didn't you mention that there was a specific amount of money you already have at your disposal?

Governor Hochul: That is money I've identified of [$378] million that I am going to be allocating toward building back the infrastructure resiliency. So we've got the human side with the individual assistance, and we want to get approval for it to the federal government. Then I want to make sure that we have the resources and no one can say we didn't have enough money to at least fix the drainage systems outside the most vulnerable subways. Fix some of these neighborhoods where you can just walk down the street and say, yeah, I see how this happened. These drains aren't functioning. The curves are too low. I've worked on infrastructure projects 27 years as a local government official. So I understand how drainage systems, storm sewers work more than most. And they're not functioning the way they should in many parts of our city.

Question: The $478 is state money?

Governor Hochul: $378. It's federal money dedicated for resiliency that I'm allocating for this storm response.

Question: And that requires approval or doesn't?

Governor Hochul: It's tomorrow. We have to go in and do damage assessment, identify the high needs areas. Then you have to bring in environmental impact statement, [inaudible] a whole secret process that would probably [inaudible] this and I know this and any way we can safely shorten the process, we're going to get it done.

Question: Governor, can I ask you a question? What would you say to the families?

I was just in a room that's in a basement in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, where a 66-year-old man drowned in his room. This is an area, neighbors there telling me it floods all the time, even, not even an event like we saw last week. It's also in an area where the city knows and it's been shown, there is a high number of illegal basement apartments. There was money set aside or program created not too long ago to help these landlords and building owners so they could not have those kinds of apartments. So these folks are saying, we've known about the flooding in terms of the infrastructure and the drains not working, the same areas keep flooding, and then there's nowhere [inaudible] and that's why these rooms happen. They are at wits' end and they said, forget the next time. There's going to be a next time. So what do you say to them? And what do we do, they keep saying, you know, talk is cheap. We want to see action.

Governor Hochul: No, they're right. And there will be a next time. And I think it's absolutely devastating that a family lost a loved one because of a flood in their own home. That is actually heart sickening to me. The city had been taking the steps that you outlined. I mean, these are city buildings. [Inaudible] city building codes and traditionally cities are responsible for that type of infrastructure. I'm a local official. I know that the cities and towns and counties are responsible for that, but I'm not here to ever cast blame. I'm here to say, I've identified a pot of money that can help with that infrastructure challenge to fix those areas where people just like that neighborhood in Brooklyn and all over, they know where they're most.

I can pull out a chart probably in another hour and say this is where all the flooding has happened the last 10 events. And to me, that's not rocket science. That is simply saying, this is where we're vulnerable. This is where we're exposed. And it just happened again, not once, but twice in the last two weeks.

As far as the human loss that you're speaking about, it shouldn't happen. It should not happen, and blame doesn't make them feel better. Talk is cheap. Talk is very cheap. I get out in person. I look, I observe, I comfort and I tell them I'll be back. That's all I can promise. I do show up. I'm there and I'm bringing money, money I just identified in the last few hours when I said, I've got to fix this, and the city's going to partner with us, the city will partner with us to get this done.

So that is hopefully one of the very last times in our city and state's history that someone, because of infrastructure failures and poor conditions in their home, where there literally is no escape. When those basement windows break and the door is crushed and the water's coming in, there's no backdoor. There's no backdoor. People shouldn't be living there. It's not their fault. They do the best they can. They're struggling and we have a responsibility as government to find alternative places for them to live, partnering with the city. [Inaudible] but, that what I just said, you will not give them one ounce of comfort, and I'm conscious of that, but they need to know that I am so motivated. I'm angry about what happened to the people in my city, our city, and I'm going to fight to fix it.

All set with on-topics? Yes?

Question: You've been urged to extend unemployment benefits. The expiration is today. Are you, any thought, any word on that?

Governor Hochul: We looked long and hard to find out what options are available for the people who particularly in certain parts of our state, like New York city, which has not come back fully in terms of the employment levels, but what we determined was is that the federal government has to okay allocations to us.

And secondly, because our unemployment system was so overtaxed last year, last year and a half, that we now have an $11 billion deficit and the state law does not allow us to allocate any increases in resources as long as there is a deficit. We're $11 billion in the hole because of COVID last year.

So we didn't have the ability to get to the answer that the people wanted to hear who've lost their jobs, but I will be absolutely focused on identifying the people, working with the Department of Labor, getting people into training programs, and some of them are literally just a few months long. I championed workforce development initiatives for the last seven years as lieutenant governor. So I know where the programs are, and it's about connecting people, helping them get retraining for jobs, because some of these jobs may never come back. They may come back when hotels reopen, maybe there'll be— I want an analysis of when we think the hospitality in particular is coming back. I want these hotels, trades and individuals to show me this, so we'll be ready to make sure they have the workforce when they're ready.

But it's also jobs that aren't coming back. Someone who does room service today might be replaced with a robot that comes to your door. I've seen it. So we have to take people and help them get the jobs they used to have. If they're back, if they're not coming back, there are thousands and thousands of jobs unfilled. It's simply a matter of connecting the dots, connecting people to the training, connecting them to the positions. And that's something I'd be laser focused on because a lot of people are hurting today as a result. The federal government's not extending the resources and the timeframe for this.

Question: Can you just clarify how much money you'll be asking President Biden for and the federal government?

Governor Hochul: What we simply did was tell them we have at least $30 million in expenses. Part of it is in a reimbursement program. So we have to spend the money and then get reimbursed. Our estimates are at least $50 million right now, but they don't ask for an exact dollar amount today. We just had to hit that threshold, but also on the individual assistance, I wanted to make sure that it wasn't a reimbursement situation for people to say, go spend $5,000 redoing your kitchen and your boiler, and you'll get reimbursed. That's not happening. You know, no one has that much money in these communities. So I want to make sure that they will get the money in advance before they spend it and that'll help hopefully make them as whole as we can. There's no way to ever get back the baby pictures I saw in mud and the wedding pictures that people were on their knees trying to salvage. Okay. We can't replace them. There's a lot of things that we lost that are irreplaceable. Thank you, everybody. I appreciate your attention to this issue and we'll be in touch about our next steps with respect to infrastructure and the subway. Thank you.

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