House and Senate Republicans from hurricane-battered Florida say they’ll use a GOP majority in Congress to fight back against Democratic efforts to force the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to consider “equity” as it distributes disaster relief.
“Aid is distributed based on need, period,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., told Fox News Digital as his home state continues to dig out from the tens of billions of dollars in damage caused by Hurricane Ian. “No serious person would say that society should consider skin color when providing disaster relief, and it’s the last thing Floridians should hear as they begin to rebuild and recover after a storm.”
“Republicans will support FEMA’s core mission, which is to support all communities when disasters occur,” said Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla. “The American people deserve a government that responds to you in a time of crisis no matter which box you check. Anything less is unacceptable.”
“Inherent to the way we do disaster aid in this country is the notion of fairness and equal application of the law,” Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., told Fox News Digital. “Discussion about equity – a word with a vague and ever-changing definition – smacks of FEMA trying to treat different communities differently on the basis of income, race or some other metric.”
“Equity is a perfect way to be inequitable because there is no objectivity to it. Once you take away objective factors, you can be as subjective as you want, all in the name of equity,” said Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla. “It’s just a way to get the money to where they want it to go.
“I’m sure the way they’ll use it is, their friends will be rewarded, and their enemies will be punished,” he said.
Handing out disaster aid based on race or class is an idea the Biden administration ran away from publicly after Vice President Kamala Harris talked about distributing funds “based on equity.” The White House quickly said she wasn’t talking about aid that’s being delivered to deal with Hurricane Ian, the most recent major storm to hit the state, or when other disasters strike and that she was only talking about non-emergency spending to blunt the effects of climate change.
But congressional Democrats are actively considering the addition of an “equity” mission at FEMA. In late September, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., proposed an amendment to a defense policy bill that would create an “equity adviser” at FEMA to ensure the agency considers race, class and ethnicity when immediate disaster aid is delivered.
Her language would require FEMA to create a process for ensuring “equity in the provision of federal assistance and throughout all programs and policies of the agency.”
Scott, who sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that has jurisdiction over FEMA, called Warren’s effort “disgusting.”
“Failed presidential candidates and woke politicians like Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren take every opportunity to inject race,” he told Fox News Digital. “It’s disgusting, and we are sick of seeing Washington liberals use race to divide us.”
Warren in May introduced a FEMA equity bill with Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, saying in a statement that current disaster relief only “amplifies” what she said is a disproportionate effect of natural disasters on the poor and “communities of color.”
“For too long, frontline communities have been disproportionately impacted by the devastating effects of natural disasters, and this injustice is exacerbated by the distribution of relief,” Warren said. “We must work towards achieving greater equity in FEMA’s disaster response, and my bill with Chairman Thompson would do just that.”
Cammack is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, which has partial jurisdiction over FEMA. She called the Democratic effort more “virtue signaling” that should not be treated as a serious proposal.
“Policymaking should be evidence-based,” she said. “This so-called ‘equity initiative’ is another example of this administration pushing ‘wokeness’ into every aspect of our lives.”
“Gaps in emergency management should be addressed by Congress, but adding an equity mission focused on virtue signaling is another example of politics over people from this administration,” she added.
Webster sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and is the top Republican on the subcommittee that also has jurisdiction over FEMA. He said his goal is to speed up FEMA’s ability to deliver relief to anyone who needs it rather than slow it down with new mandates.
“FEMA has done a good job so far after Ian, but it is no secret that the agency can be slow, bureaucratic and frustrating for disaster victims,” he said. “I support streamlining FEMA’s processes across the board – equally for all victims of declared disasters.”
Gimenez, who is a member of both the Homeland Security and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, is also a paramedic and said it makes no sense to inject equity considerations when responding to an emergency.
“With a mass casualty incident, you triage people based on extent of their injuries not their economic status. That’s the foolishness of the whole thing,” he said. But he added that he fears Democrats will keep pursuing the idea.
“I am worried about it because the VP spoke about it,” Gimenez said. “I’m worried about it because you have this administration that uses that word everywhere.”
The idea of giving FEMA an equity mandate is being talked about enough that the Congressional Research Service released a report last week on the “policy considerations” that Congress should look at as it considers the matter.
That report outlined a few significant hurdles Democrats face. It noted that there is no “equity” provision in the laws authorizing and funding FEMA and said creating “race- or-sex-conscious programs for the benefit of certain minorities may be limited by the constitutional requirement that the government afford all individuals equal protection under the law.”
“FEMA must comply with several statutory authorities related to equity,” it said. “As a federal entity, FEMA is prohibited from intentionally discriminating on the basis of race.”
Still, the report said a number of proposals are being discussed in Congress and among scholars and emergency managers and said Congress may have to find a way to change the law to ensure the “delivery of equitable disaster assistance.”