The president's comments come amidst continuing criticism from Katrina survivors that much of the funding needed to rebuild the New Orleans area and the Gulf Coast that was expected from both the government and insurance companies has not been forthcoming.
Bush, admitting "there's still challenges," acknowledged more needed to be done in the area. "You can see it with the temporary trailers," he said.
While Mississippi suffered tremendous damage from Katrina, more than 90 percent of the area's residents have returned and have begun to rebuild their lives and their communities. The same is not true of New Orleans, where schools, hospitals and even some neighborhoods remain closed and many residents possibly have permanently relocated to other cities throughout the United States.
"A year ago, I committed our federal government to help you," said Bush. "I said we have a duty to help the local people recover and rebuild. And I meant what I said."
The federal government has appropriated $110 billion to help rebuild the area, he said, adding, "It is a strong federal commitment that we will keep."
"We understand people are still anxious to get in their home. We understand people hear about help and wonder where it is… But the first thing is, is that this federal government has made a commitment to help, and it starts with a large check. It also means that in order for the rebuilding to be as strong as we want, there has to be a partnership with the federal government and the state and local governments."
The first test of the partnership, said Bush, was to clear debris, because, "You can't rebuild a community when the community is full of debris." Approximately 98 percent of the debris has been removed.
Bush also talked about hurricane response, on everyone's minds with Tropical Storm Ernesto bearing down on south Florida. He said the federal government is working to ensure the country is better prepared to handle hurricanes. Every department of the Bush administration participated in a comprehensive study that looked at the federal government's response to last year's hurricanes. Each department was asked to come up with practical reforms to improve response.
"The truth of the matter is, we can work together, and will, but when disaster strikes, the first people that you rely upon, the people that matter most, are your friends," said Bush. "It's friends helping friends that turns out to make an enormous difference in saving lives and helping to get by the trauma of the first days."