The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that the administration will “support all communities” following a remark by Vice President Kamala Harris that “communities of color” would receive help prioritized above others.
About a day after Hurricane Ian ravaged Florida, Harris made the remarks and said that those communities are most “impacted by these extreme conditions” and “we need to do to help them in terms of an immediate response and aid.”
“We have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity … sometimes we have to take into account those disparities,” she said.
Hundreds of public figures, including Democrats, criticized Harris’s remarks. They included Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, who chimed in with a common sense response that resource allocation “should be according to greatest need, not race or anything else.”
But the biggest response to Harris came f rom FEMA Director Deanne Criswell who was asked about the vice president’s comments during a CBS News interview on Sunday.
“We’re going to support all communities,” Criswell said in response. “I committed that to the governor, I commit to you right here that all Floridians are going to be able to get the help that is available to them through our programs.”
She added: “One of the things that I have known and I have experienced responding to other disasters is that there are people that often have a hard time accessing our programs, there’s barriers to our program.”
Criswell’s comments in rebuttal to the Vice President contradict supposed “fact-checkers” who claimed Harris never said it. The fact-checkers have been mocked for their attempt to defend Harris’s comments.
A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Christina Pushaw, asserted that Harris’s comment was unhelpful and is causing panic among victims of Ian.
Harris’s remark “is false,” Pushaw wrote on Twitter, adding that it is “causing undue panic and must be clarified. FEMA Individual Assistance is already available to all Floridians impacted by Hurricane Ian, regardless of race or background. If you need assistance visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.”
In a separate Twitter post, Pushaw called on Harris to “correct what she said.”
Other than Pushaw, others provided Harris with negative feedback over the remark. “Should be according to greatest need, not race or anything else,” wrote Tesla CEO Elon Musk in response.
Nearly 850,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity Sunday, down from a peak of 2.67 million, after Ian struck.
Criswell told “Fox News Sunday” that the federal government began to arrange the “largest amount of search and rescue assets that I think we’ve ever put in place before” to supplement Florida’s resources.
At least 54 people have been confirmed dead: 47 in Florida, four in North Carolina, and three in Cuba. The weakened storm drifted north on Sunday and was expected to dump rain on parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania, according to the National Hurricane Center, which warned of the potential for flash-flooding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.