Peters, Colleagues Urge President Trump to Approve Disaster Declarations to Aid State and Local Government Coronavirus Response

Presidential approval of disaster declarations made under the Stafford Act would grant states access to $42.6 billion Disaster Relief Fund

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led 29 of their Democratic colleagues in urging President Trump to immediately consider any disaster declarations invoked by governors under the Stafford Act, which would grant states access to additional resources necessary to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. In a letter, the Senators called on President Trump to immediately make emergency funds available through the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), a $42.6 billion reserve the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) uses to direct, coordinate, manage and fund recovery and response efforts associated with domestic major disasters and emergencies that have overwhelmed state resources.

Addressing the current COVID-19 outbreak requires a comprehensive approach to make all resources available to support state and local response efforts. While the immediate health risk to the majority of the American public is thought to remain low, the challenges of community spread have already begun to strain state and local governments. The DRF allows FEMA to enact emergency protective measures at a 75% federal to 25% state cost share covering a wide range of eligible expenses and activities that promote public health and safety.

The letter was signed by Senators Peters (D-MI), Schumer (D-NY), Murray (D-WA), Baldwin (D-WI), Markey (D-MA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Durbin (D-IL), Brown (D-OH), Duckworth (D-IL), Booker (D-NJ), Cantwell (D-WA), Whitehouse (D-RI), Rosen (D-NV), Schatz (D-HI), Murphy (D-CT), Casey (D-PA), Cardin (D-MD), Kaine (D-VA), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Warren (D-MA), Feinstein (D-CA), Wyden (D-OR), Reed (D-RI), Leahy (D-VT), Klobuchar (D-MN), King (I-ME), Shaheen (D-NH), Menendez (D-NJ), Hassan (D-NH), Hirono (D-HI), Stabenow (D-MI), and Merkley (D-OR).

Text of the letter is copied below and available here:

Dear President Trump:

We urge you to consult with Governors and immediately consider any Disaster Declaration requests pursuant to the Stafford Act for states preparing for and responding to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. As the number of confirmed cases increases across the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should utilize the $42.643 billion currently available in the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to assist state and local governments in their efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health. This would not be an unprecedented action, President Clinton issued an Emergency Declaration under the Stafford Act in 2000 for New York and New Jersey and utilized this authority to pay for mosquito abatement. COVID-19 must be addressed swiftly and effectively, with all federal resources made available to impacted communities and tribes.

The DRF is the primary source of funding for the federal government's general disaster relief program. According to the March 6, 2020 Disaster Relief Fund: Monthly Report - Fiscal Year 2020 Report to Congress, the DRF has a balance of $42.643 billion as of February 29, 2020. Under FEMA’s administration, the DRF funds three relevant types of activities for the COVID-19 outbreak. The first are predeclaration surge activities, such as deploying response teams and prepositioning equipment. Second, the DRF funds Disaster Readiness and Support (DRS) activities which include all ongoing, non-incident specific FEMA actions. Finally, the DRF also funds Disaster Declaration activities. While a Disaster Declaration must be requested by a governor, if granted, it would allow FEMA to provide emergency protective measures to the state at a 75% federal to 25% state cost share for eligible expenses and activities. According to FEMA’s Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide v3.1, these eligible expenses include: medically necessary tests and diagnosis; treatment, stabilization, and monitoring; a one-time 30-day supply of prescriptions for acute conditions or to replace maintenance prescriptions; vaccinations for survivors and emergency workers to prevent outbreaks of infectious and communicable diseases; durable medical equipment; consumable medical supplies; temporary facilities, such as tents or portable buildings for treatment of survivors; leased or purchased equipment for use in temporary medical care facilities; security for temporary medical care facilities; use of ambulances for distributing immunizations and setting up mobile medical units; and dissemination of information to the public to provide warnings and guidance about health and safety hazards using various strategies, such as flyers, public service announcements, or newspaper campaigns. Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5207 (the Stafford Act), the President is authorized to grant a Disaster Declaration for any occasion when federal assistance is needed, and clearly the COVID-19 outbreak demands a swift and adequately resourced federal response.

As of March 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 647 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths across 36 states. While the immediate health risk to the majority of the American public is thought to remain low, the challenges of community spread have already begun to strain state and local government responses, particularly health departments. State and local officials are working hard to mitigate the outbreak and protect Americans and ongoing federal resources are badly needed to support those efforts.

It is crucial that your administration employ a whole-of-government approach in responding to COVID-19. This includes working closely with state, local, and tribal officials and providing necessary resources to those on the frontlines. We strongly urge FEMA to stand ready to provide emergency protective measures to prevent and mitigate the spread of disease, save lives, and protect public health and safety, should any state request assistance.

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