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The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to issue a major disaster declaration to speed a wide range of federal aid to states determined to be overwhelmed by hurricanes or other catastrophes. Financing for the aid is appropriated to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Funds appropriated to the DRF remain available until expended (a "no-year" account). The Stafford Act authorizes temporary housing, grants for immediate needs of families and individuals, the repair of public infrastructure, emergency communications systems, and other forms of assistance.
Because the Stafford Act provides the President with permanent authority to direct federal aid to stricken states, Congress need not enact new legislation to meet immediate needs. Congress appropriated over $10 billion to the DRF in FY2005, largely in response to the four hurricanes that struck Florida in the fall of 2004. The appropriations legislation for FY2006 includes roughly $2 billion for the DRF in both the House and Senate versions of H.R. 2360 in conference at the time Hurricane Katrina struck. Congress can elect to consider supplemental appropriations should additional money be required to meet the requests for assistance.
This report will be updated as warranted by events.
Contents Overview of the Stafford Act Presidential Declarations Types of Assistance and Eligibility Issues for the 109th Congress Controlling Federal Expenditures Long-Term Recovery Policy List of Tables Table 1. Disaster Relief Fund, FY1974-FY20055
Overview of the Stafford Act
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to issue major disaster declarations that authorize federal agencies to provide assistance to states overwhelmed by disasters. (1) Through executive orders, the President has delegated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsibility for administering the major provisions of the Stafford Act. Assistance authorized by the statute is available to individuals, families, state and local governments, and certain nonprofit organizations.
Activities undertaken under authority of the Stafford Act are provided through funds appropriated to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF). Federal assistance supported by DRF money is used by states, localities, and certain non-profit organizations to provide mass care, restore damaged or destroyed facilities, clear debris, and aid individuals and families with uninsured needs, among other activities. In calendar year 2004, President Bush issued 68 major disaster declarations; in calendar year 2005, 32 such declarations have been issued, including those for Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina. (2)
Presidential Declarations. Under Stafford Act authority, five types of actions may be taken, summarized as follows.
* Major disaster. The President issues a major disaster declaration after receiving a request from the governor of the affected state. (3) Major disaster declarations may be issued after a natural catastrophe or, "regardless of cause, fire, flood or explosion." (4) A declaration authorizes DHS to administer various federal disaster assistance programs for victims of declared disasters. Each major disaster declaration specifies the type of incident covered, the time period covered, the types of disaster assistance available, the counties affected by the declaration, and the name of the federal coordinating officer.
* Emergency. The declaration process for emergencies is similar to that used for major disasters; the President may, however, issue an emergency declaration without a gubernatorial request if primary responsibility rests with the federal government. (5) An emergency declaration may be issued on "any occasion or instance" in which the President determines that federal assistance is required. Under an emergency declaration, the federal government funds and undertakes emergency response activities, debris removal, and individual assistance and housing programs. DRF expenditures for an emergency are limited to $5 million per declaration unless the President determines that there is a continuing need; Congress must be notified if the $5 million …