The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is reportedly preparing for President Donald Trump to invoke a 1988 law declaring a state of emergency, which would provide an immediate influx of funds and staff to assist in the government’s response to the deadly Coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Documents obtained Monday by NBC News show that agency officials are preparing for an “infectious disease emergency declaration” by Trump that would enable FEMA to provide disaster relief funding to state and local governments to support their Coronavirus responses.
Such a declaration would require the administration to invoke the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (Stafford Act of 1988), a federal law designed to allow the government to provide orderly systematic assistance to local governments in the aftermath of natural disasters. The act differs from disaster relief funds generally provided following major earthquakes or hurricanes.
Then-President Bill Clinton previously invoked the Stafford Act to declare a state of emergency in response to the West Nile virus outbreak in the northeast United States in 2000. According to the report, under an emergency declaration by President Trump, FEMA would be able to form medical assistance teams, erect mobile hospitals, and provide military transport in areas affected by the virus.
FEMA’s chief of staff during the Obama administration Michael Coen told the news outlet that the administration’s decision to invoke the Stafford Act showed it was finally taking fears of a full-blown pandemic seriously.
“To me this is another indication that the president and the White House are finally aware of the gravity of the situation,” Coen said. “They need to consider all tools available to them and have contingencies for action.”
A similar sentiment was made by former FEMA deputy administrator Tim Manning.
“I actually find this reassuring,” Manning said, adding, “I hope this discussion has been happening continuously over the last couple of months.”
Agency spokesperson Lizzie Litzow told NBC that FEMA is currently supporting the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), after HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared a “public health emergency” on Jan. 31.
“While this virus poses a serious public health threat, the risk to the American public remains low at this time, and we are working to keep this risk low,” Secretary Azar said in a statement released at the time. “We are committed to protecting the health and safety of all Americans, and this public health emergency declaration is the latest in the series of steps the Trump Administration has taken to protect our country.”
The HHS emergency declaration gave state, tribal, and local health departments more flexibility to request authorization to temporarily reassign personnel.
[image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]