Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has changed his tune about his promise to "absolutely" eliminate the federal agency charged with providing relief to the millions of Americans who have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, the former Massachusetts governor had said that abolishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was "the right direction" and eliminating all federal disaster relief was important because "we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids."

"It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all."

But after repeatedly ignoring reporters' questions about that topic in the wake of this week's super storm, Romney reversed course in a statement on Wednesday.

"I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters," the candidate said. "As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters."

George Haddow, who worked as a deputy chief of staff at FEMA in the 1990s, told the Boston Globe on Wednesday that Romney's vision for the agency mirrors that of President George W. Bush, who presided over the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.

"The problem is it doesn’t reflect the reality of major disasters," Haddow explained.

"You need FEMA, and you need a large FEMA," University of Houston professor of economics Thomas DeGregori agreed. "FEMA can do things that no state or local government can do, and often has experience and expertise that they don’t have."