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Harris comments on addressing climate inequity misrepresented

October 4, 2022 GMT
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the DNC Women's Leadership Forum, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at The Mayflower Hotel, in Washington. Harris spoke about distributing equitable resources to help with the effects of climate change. She did not say that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race, as some claimed online. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the DNC Women's Leadership Forum, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at The Mayflower Hotel, in Washington. Harris spoke about distributing equitable resources to help with the effects of climate change. She did not say that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race, as some claimed online. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the DNC Women's Leadership Forum, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at The Mayflower Hotel, in Washington. Harris spoke about distributing equitable resources to help with the effects of climate change. She did not say that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race, as some claimed online. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the DNC Women's Leadership Forum, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at The Mayflower Hotel, in Washington. Harris spoke about distributing equitable resources to help with the effects of climate change. She did not say that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race, as some claimed online. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the DNC Women's Leadership Forum, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at The Mayflower Hotel, in Washington. Harris spoke about distributing equitable resources to help with the effects of climate change. She did not say that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race, as some claimed online. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

CLAIM: Vice President Kamala Harris said that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race, with communities of color receiving aid first.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. During a conversation with actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas at the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington on Friday, Harris spoke about distributing resources equitably to help vulnerable groups, such as low income communities and communities of color, recover from disasters related to climate change. She did not describe the structure that would be used to allocate aid to victims of the recent hurricane.

THE FACTS: In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, widespread social media posts mischaracterized Harris’ comments, claiming that she said communities of color will be prioritized in the distribution of storm relief.

A Facebook video, which features a clip of Harris discussing the importance of giving communities particularly vulnerable to climate change a fair share of resources, alleged: “Kamala Harris tells hurricane victims in Florida they may not get aid because of their skin color?!” The video was viewed more than 211,000 times.

“Kamala Harris just said that hurricane funds will go to people of color first,” claimed a tweet with more than 28,000 likes and more than 7,000 shares. “How about focusing on the communities that are the most effected? I’m so sick of this racist crap.”

The posts refer to Harris’ response to a multipart question from Chopra Jonas about Hurricane Ian aid, and then, separately, long-term efforts related to climate change.

“Can you talk a little bit about the relief efforts, obviously, of Hurricane Ian and what the administration has been doing to address the climate crisis in the states?” Chopra Jonas asked, according to a full recording of the event sent to The Associated Press by DNC Deputy Communications Director Daniel Wessel.

Chopra Jonas continued: “But — and just a little follow up, because this is important to me: We consider the global implications of emissions, right? The poorest countries are affected the most. They contributed the least and are affected the most. So how should voters in the U.S. feel about the administration’s long-term goals when it comes to being an international influencer on this topic?”

Harris, in response, mentioned Hurricane Ian in passing, but did not talk about specific relief efforts the federal government would undertake, other than stating that “we are all thinking about the families in Florida, in Puerto Rico with Fiona — and what we need to do to help them in terms of an immediate response and aid.”

She instead referenced money allocated to address climate change in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and spoke generally about what she believes needs to be done to address the effects of climate change, including the equitable distribution of resources.

Pivoting to address the second part of Chopra Jonas’ question related to addressing disparities, Harris continued: “But also what we need to do to help restore communities and build communities back up in a way that they can be resilient — not to mention, adapt — to these extreme conditions, which are part of the future.”

Harris then elaborated about this imbalance, directly referencing the second question Chopra Jonas asked.

“In particular on the disparities, as you have described rightly, which is that 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,” she said.

Harris added: “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 that not everyone starts out at the same place. And if we want people to be in an equal place, sometimes we have to take into account those disparities and do that work.”

A White House transcript of the event matches what Harris said in the DNC recording.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates told the AP that these claims about race-based aid are “inaccurate” and that Harris was actually discussing long-term goals for addressing climate change that have bipartisan support.

“Vice President Harris had already answered the interviewer’s first question, about the FEMA response to Hurricane Ian specifically, by emphasizing that we are urgently responding to all Americans hurt by the storm,” Bates said in an email. “She had explicitly moved on to answering the second question — on ‘long term goals’ for how to ‘address the climate crisis in the states’ — by mentioning the long term investments that Congress, with Republican support, specifically set aside for communities that are vulnerable because of a lack of infrastructure resources.”

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba on Sept. 27 and Florida a day later. At least 79 people have been confirmed dead in Florida, North Carolina and Cuba as a result of the storm, the AP has reported.

The FEMA website provides information about how to apply for assistance, but does not specify any racial requirements for doing so. FEMA Director of Public Affairs Jaclyn Rothenberg also told the AP that claims the process will be race-based are false, and that Hurricane Ian aid will be given to all those affected by the storm.

“As the administration has said across the board, we support all communities,” she said in an email, adding that “the Vice President was talking about a different issue at that time and her comments were focused on long term climate investments.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.