The federal and state governments have been responding to the escalating coronavirus (COVID-19) public emergency by prioritizing funding opportunities and strategizing ways to increase access to care and minimize economic damage. On Friday, March 13, the Administration declared a national emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, but what exactly does this mean?
What Is The Stafford Act?
The Stafford Act provides that a national "emergency" occurs when federal assistance is needed to help state and local government save lives and protect property and public health or safety, or to lessen the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States.
Declaring a national emergency determines the resources available to respond to an emergency by increasing federal officials’ powers to assist states and localities. As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be able to provide disaster relief funding to state and local governments. This includes the ability for a state to request a federal cost-share for expenses that include emergency workers, medical tests, medical supplies, vaccinations and security for medical facilities, among other things.
What Are The Next Steps?
The Administration's decision to invoke the Stafford Act and declare the outbreak a national emergency shows the seriousness of the situation. Only two emergency declarations through the Stafford Act have targeted disease outbreaks, both made by President Clinton in 2000 for New York and New Jersey to address the threat of the West Nile virus. But while the gravity of this pandemic should not be taken lightly, as World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated, “This is not the time to give up.” Rather, “this is a time for pulling out all the stops.”