The White House is remaining silent on Vice President Kamala Harris‘ recent claim that the Biden administration should take “equity” into account when divvying up federal disaster aid.
Despite the comments causing a stir as Hurricane Ian battered the East Coast this weekend, the White House refused to state whether President Biden stood by Harris’ comments or if they represented official administration policy.
Other administration officials have similarly refused to address the vice president’s remarks head on. Some have gone out of their way, however, to say the White House is committed to supporting all communities impacted by natural disasters and climate change.
“We’re going to support all communities,” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell said during a Sunday appearance on “Face the Nation.”
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While Criswell did not address Harris’ comments directly, the FEMA chief did say there were often barriers that communities of colors and others groups faced when applying for federal aid.
“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 are barriers to our program,” she said. “One of our focus areas, since I’ve been in office, is to make sure that we’re removing those barriers.”
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The controversy erupted after Harris was asked during a Democratic National Committee event on Friday about the White House’s efforts to respond to natural disasters within the U.S. and abroad. Harris argued that such disasters were often the result of climate change and impacted low-income and minority communities at a disproportionate rate.
“It is our lowest-income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and impacted by issues that are not of their own making,” said the vice president. “So we have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity.”
Republicans were quick to rebuke Harris, saying it was improper to claim the federal government should prioritize race or other criteria when seeking to help communities impacted by natural disasters.
The reelection campaign of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis even accused Harris of fomenting panic at a time when the state’s residents were still dealing with the fallout of Hurricane Ian.
Harris’ “rhetoric is causing undue panic and must be clarified,” said Christina Pushaw, the campaign’s rapid response director. “FEMA Individual Assistance is already available to all Floridians impacted by Hurricane Ian, regardless of race or background.”