President Bush is continuing his effort to blunt criticism of his handling of the humanitarian crisis following Hurricane Katrina. Congressional Democrats say the president's team is responding much too slowly to a storm that made land 11 days ago.
President Bush says he is cutting through government red tape to help those hardest hit by the killer storm. Each affected household will receive $2,000 in emergency disaster relief for immediate needs such as food and clothing.
Because many evacuees fled without proper identification needed to apply for additional benefits, Mr. Bush says many of those requirements will now be waived.
"We have much more work to do, but the people who have been hurt by this storm need to know that the government is going to be with you for the long haul," said Mr. Bush. "In all the steps we take, our goal is not to simply provide benefits, but to make them easy and simple as possible to collect."
More than 400,000 families have already registered. Mr. Bush urged those who have not done so already to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Doing so, he says, will make them eligible for future assistance as well.
FEMA and its director, Mike Brown, are at the center of mounting criticism of the administration's handling of Katrina's aftermath. Much of the hostility is focused on the pace of that response as Mr. Brown reportedly waited until the storm reached land to request the deployment of one thousand workers from the Department of Homeland Security, a deployment that took two days.
Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives. She told President Bush that Mr. Brown should be fired.
"If somebody is incompetent, has no credentials for the job that he holds, and that I would say is Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, brings nothing to the table of the level of competence and accountability, he should not continue in that job unless we want a continuations of the shortcomings that we have had in the response," said Ms. Pelosi.
Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid says FEMA should not be the clearinghouse for more than $50 billion of emergency assistance, accusing Republicans of having a flawed recovery plan.
The White House says it will not engage in what it calls the "blame game," and is focused instead on getting help to those who need it.
Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney and First Lady Laura Bush toured areas affected by the hurricane Thursday.
In Mississippi, the vice president said the aid response so far has been phenomenal.
"There is an enormous amount of work that yet needs to be done to rebuild these communities, but everybody I've met with is positive and upbeat. We are going to get it done. We are going to rebuild," said Mr. Cheney.
The First Lady visited a Mississippi school, urging evacuees to enroll their children at what is the start of the school year in America.
"It's really important for parents to make sure their children go to school," said Mrs. Bush. "It's important for their children to have a normal life, to have the structure and the routine of going to school. And especially since many children have seen and suffered a lot of really terrible things."
The president says neighboring states that have taken in evacuees should not be penalized for showing compassion. So the federal government will reimburse those states for the costs of providing additional benefits including unemployment insurance, childcare, subsidized school lunches, and Medicaid.
Mr. Bush announced a national day of prayer and remembrance September 16 for those who perished in the storm.