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               Researh Sevice

The Stafford Act Emergency Declaration for


March 13, 2020

This Insight provides an overview of emergency declarations under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief
and Emergency Assistance Act (hereinafter the Stafford Act, PRL. 93-288, as amended; 42 U. S.C.  5121
et seq.). It describes the forms of assistance authorized pursuant to President Donald J. Trump's March
13, 2020 emergency declaration under the Stafford Act in all U.S. states and territories in response to the
coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID- 19) pandemic.

Stafford Act Emergency Declaration for COVID-19

The President's emergency declaration, pursuant to Stafford Act Section 501 (b), authorized assistance for
COVID-19 response efforts for all U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia. There was no
precedent for a nationwide Stafford Act declaration. Generally, the governor of an affected state/territory
or tribal chief executive of an affected Indian tribal government requests the President approve a Stafford
Act declaration for specific jurisdictions and types of needed assistance, and the President makes the
determination in consultation with FEMA. It is rare for the President to declare an emergency without a
governor or chief executive's request; examples include the explosion at the federal courthouse in
Oklahoma City and the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Like the COVID-19 emergency declaration,
these declarations were authorized under Stafford Act Section 501(b), for certain emergencies involving
federal primary responsibility (42 U.S.C.  5191).
The Department of lealth and Human Services (IlHlS) remains the lead agency for the federal response to
COVID-19 (see also 42 U.S.C. 300hh(a)). Assistance authorized through the Stafford Act is to
supplement and support the efforts of HHS and state, territorial, tribal, and local governments. The
Stafford Act does not supplant or supersede other federal authorities, including public health authorities
exercised by the Secretary of HHS.

                                                               Congressional Research Service

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