Specialist in American National Government
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to issue major disaster or emergency declarations in response to catastrophes in the United States that overwhelm state and local governments. Such declarations result in the distribution of a wide range of federal aid to individuals and families, certain nonprofit organizations, and public agencies. Congress appropriates money to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) for disaster assistance authorized by the Stafford Act. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administers most, but not all, of the authority the statute vests in the President.
The most recent significant action concerning the statute occurred in the closing months of the 109th Congress as a result of the congressional investigation on the response to Hurricane Katrina (August 2005). Senators inserted Stafford Act amendments into the FY2007 DHS appropriations legislation (Title VI of P.L. 109-295). These amendments expanded FEMA's authority to expedite emergency assistance to stricken areas, imposed new planning and preparedness requirements on federal administrators, provided new authority to regional offices, and increased federal assistance to victims and communities. More recently, Congress included a provision in the FY2010 appropriations legislation (P.L. 111-83) that allows retired law judges to arbitrate conflicts concerning the recovery of public infrastructure in the Gulf Coast due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While not an amendment to the Stafford Act, this provision affects the administration of the FEMA appeals process under which applications for Stafford assistance are reconsidered. The decisions made to date by the arbitration panels resulted in an Administration request for supplemental funding for FY2010. That request is the subject of some debate in the 111th Congress.
Legislation pending in the 111th Congress would amend the statute. Among the proposals, H.R. 3377, the Disaster Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Enhancement Act of 2009, would authorize the President to modernize the integrated public alert system to ensure that warnings are disseminated to the public, provide health benefits to temporary or intermittent federal employees who provide disaster assistance, authorize the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System, and make other changes to the statute. Other pending bills would reauthorize a mortgage and rental assistance program terminated in 2000 (H.R. 888/S. 763), establish new eligibility criteria (H.R. 941, H.R. 1059, H.R. 1494, H.R. 2484, H.R. 4141, and S. 1069), and mandate establishment of a tracking and storage plan for housing units used by disaster survivors (H.R. 3437/S. 713).
Date of Report: March 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: RL33053
Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Federal Stafford Act Disaster Assistance: Presidential Declarations, Eligible Activities, and Funding