Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell assured the agency will provide Hurricane Ian relief to "all communities" after Vice President Kamala Harris remarked that the Biden administration believes aid should be distributed "based on equity."
"We're going to support all communities," Criswell said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, after being asked to respond to Harris' remarks two days earlier. "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."
At the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum last Friday, Harris said, "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."
"And so 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, understanding not everyone starts out at the same place," Harris said.
After the vice president's comments, a campaign adviser to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed the remarks caused "undue panic" in the state surrounding how aid would be distributed after Hurricane Ian.
"This is false," Christina Pushaw, rapid-response director for DeSantis's reelection campaign, tweeted. "@VP's rhetoric 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."
Criswell appeared to agree with Harris but suggested that equity is a longer-term goal.
"I would say I believe some of the things the vice president was talking about are the long-term recovery and rebuilding these communities to be able to withstand disasters, so they can have less impact," she said.
"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."
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., criticized Harris' remarks earlier on "Face the Nation" Sunday.
"But it's also not helpful what the vice president says, when she thinks that FEMA is going to treat people differently based on their skin color," Scott said.
Since she has been in office, the FEMA administrator added that one of four areas of focus for the agency is to "make sure that we're removing those barriers."
"So, these people that need our help the most are going to be able to access the help that we offer," she said. "I know that the vice president and the president, they share the same values."
Officials have confirmed that at least 76 people in Florida died after the hurricane made landfall on Wednesday as a Category 4 Hurricane, flooding coastal towns and decimating entire neighborhoods, CNN reports. ABC News cites local officials to report the death toll in Florida at 81. Meanwhile, NBC News tallies 83 deaths from the storm in Florida as of Sunday.
Four in North Carolina died from storm-related incidents on Friday, according to the governor's office. Three deaths were related to car accidents, and one was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator running in a closed garage.
USA Today reported Sunday evening that power remained out to about 720,000 homes and businesses across Florida.
Many in Florida lack clean drinking water, and some communities, including islands, remained completely cut off as of early Sunday, The New York Times reported.
In South Carolina, where Ian made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane Friday afternoon, no deaths were reported, and the state sustained far less damage than was anticipated. However, the storm caused record power outages affecting at least 239,000 residents and wind damage stretched far into the interior of the state.
The other states affected by Ian include Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Puerto Rico suffered damage from Hurricane Fiona last month.