The Stafford Act gives the president the power to make disaster declarations during an emergency. But what is the Stafford Act? Where did it come from? What is the scope of the president's power? This article has answers.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) gives the president the power to declare a national emergency as a response to a national disaster. This declaration allows the president to access funds and disaster relief assistance set aside by Congress.
The declaration is mainly intended to help states get assistance from the federal government during an emergency/disaster while they carry out their responsibilities to aid their citizens.
Prior to 1950, Congress had to pass separate laws to deal with emergencies that affected the nation. But in 1950, Congress passed a comprehensive Federal Disaster Relief Act giving the president power to provide federal assistance upon the request of a governor. Later in 1988, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which provides funds for states, was passed.
The Stafford Act has been used quite often, about 56 times a year. It has been used before as a response to disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Oklahoma City bombing.
It has, however, been very rarely invoked for public health emergencies. Notable examples when the Act was used to address a public health emergency include:
The Stafford Act has seven titles. The Act creates and outlines the appropriate level of response required by the federal government after a disaster is declared.
When the president issues an emergency declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will automatically get the power to coordinate relief resources to assist overwhelmed state and local governments.
Under a national emergency, FEMA's powers are usually connected with natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. However, FEMA has also been mobilized to address pandemics like COVID-19.
The incident levels can either be emergencies or major disasters. Emergencies require only a limited federal intervention while major disasters are usually more massive in scale.
Before the president invokes the Stafford Act, the following must happen:
The governor should inform the president about the resources the state actually has. The president then decides whether a declaration is needed and provides federal assistance where deemed necessary.
After the president declares the emergency, FEMA will draft a document called "the FEMA state agreement." The agreement outlines a number of things, including:
The Stafford Act authorizes three types of assistance from the federal government. These are:
Likely not. While this act gives the president a considerable amount of power, it does not explicitly give the president the ability to quarantine citizens at a time of disaster. Rather, the federal government, in times of health emergencies, may have the power to quarantine citizens under the commerce clause of the Constitution.