The Stafford Act, Invoked By President Trump, Has Rarely Been Used For Public Health Emergencies


Surrounded by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, US President Donald Trump speaks at … [+] a press conference on COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, March 13, 2020. – Trump is declaring coronavirus a national emergency. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Topline: In response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988, allowing the federal government through FEMA to take advantage of a $50 billion fund for disaster relief that’s rarely been used for disease outbreaks.

  • In 2000, then President Bill Clinton used the Stafford Act in response to West Nile outbreaks in New Jersey and New York, which provided around $5 million in assistance.
  • A similar declaration called the National Emergencies Act, which more broadly defines an emergency and gives the president more powers like the ability to take control of the internet, was used instead of the Stafford Act by President Barack Obama in response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009.
  • The Stafford Act is instead used more frequently during natural disasters and non-pandemic emergencies; a Congressional Research Service report in 2015 estimated that the Stafford Act was enacted 56 times per year between 2000 and 2009.
  • In a notable instance, the government’s delayed response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was criticized along with provisions of the Stafford Act that were deemed too stringent by officials speaking with Frontline, especially when dealing with destruction at that scale.
  • It’s not just natural disasters, though, as the act has been invoked for a number of terrorist incidents, including the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
  • The first known request for aid from the Stafford Act for a mass shooting came from Florida governor Rick Scott in 2016 following the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, but the request was denied by President Obama as, according to then FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, the governor did not adequately illustrate why local and state resources weren’t enough.
  • More recently, President Trump used the act in 2019 to issue aid to Nebraska and Iowa in response to severe flooding.

Crucial Stats: There are 1,700 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, with 40 people dead.

Surprising Fact: The Stafford Act was a plot point in the political series House of Cards, used as means to fund a jobs program with unemployment deemed an emergency.

Continue reading at Forbes