Head of FEMA says aid will go to “all communities,” not based on “equity” as VP Harris suggested


Tess Riski

Miami Herald

MIAMI — With at least 70 people dead in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell promised to provide assistance to Floridians as they recover from the powerful Category 4 storm, but also said it’s important to consider the risk of rebuilding in the state’s most vulnerable regions.

“When individuals are starting to make decisions about what they’re going to do and what their next steps are, they really need to understand what their risk is,” Criswell told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning. “We need to make sure that we have strong building codes, because we have risks all over.”

Lee County — where some of the worst-hit areas, including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Pine Island, are located — has reported 35 deaths following the storm. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno has said the storm surge reached a height of 10 feet or more.

“That’s hard to survive,” Republican Sen. Rick Scott told “Face the Nation.”

Scott said people will still want to live in the state’s coastal regions that are most vulnerable to extreme weather events, including the communities that were destroyed by Ian. The solution, he said, is to “continue to improve our building codes.”

“These places are places where people want to live,” Scott said. “They’re beautiful places. So what you really have to do is you have to say, ‘I’m going to build but I’m going to do it safely.’”

On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris said the federal government should take equity into account when distributing resources to hurricane survivors.

“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,” Harris said. “And so we have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity.”

In response, Criswell said her office is aiming to remove barriers to accessing FEMA assistance for “all Floridians.”

“I believe some of the things the Vice President was talking about are the long term,” Criswell said. “I’m recovering and rebuilding these communities to be able to withstand disasters, so they can have less impact. We’re going to support all communities. 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 for them.”

Scott called Harris’ comments “not helpful.”

“FEMA has to be colorblind,” he said. “FEMA has to provide support to everybody.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on CNN Sunday morning commended FEMA and the Biden administration’s response, adding, “It’s not about politics.”

“There’s no complaints there,” he said. “These are professionals.”

Rubio noted that the rebuilding efforts “will take years.”

Aerial footage shows a boat dock serves as a makeshift bridge on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Matlacha, Florida. Hurricane Ian washed away part of a bridge there, making the road to Pine Island impassable. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)

“These communities have basically been wiped out and so now it’ll be about the long term,” Rubio said. “They’re going to be rebuilt but they won’t look the same, because you can’t rebuild old Florida.”

———

©2022 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.