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              Researh Sevice






Potential FEMA Emergency Sheltering

Options During the COVID-19 Pandemic



Updated October 5, 2020


Some hazards (e.g., hurricanes, wildfires) may result in evacuations and displacement of survivors.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state, local, tribal, and territorial
governments (SLTTs) are responsible for coordinating emergency sheltering after a declaration under the
Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act; 42 U.S.C.  5121 et
seq.). However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FEMA acknowledge that the
ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may complicate efforts to provide emergency
sheltering. This Insight discusses emergency sheltering models used by FEMA, COVID-19-related
emergency sheltering policies, and challenges faced by SLTTs supporting emergency sheltering during the
COVID-19 pandemic, and policy considerations for Congress.


Emergency Sheltering Options

The federal government may provide assistance to SLTTs when the President declares an emergency or
major disaster under the Stafford Act. Emergency sheltering may be authorized under Stafford Act
Section 502 following an emergency declaration, and Stafford Act Section 403 following a major disaster
declaration or Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) declaration. This assistance is commonly
referred to as Public Assistance (PA) Category B-Emergency Protective Measures. When PA is
authorized, FEMA will reimburse SLTTs, as well as eligible nonprofits (PA Applicants) for at least 75%
of eligible costs incurred while performing eligible work. FEMA's regulations on emergency sheltering
are limited, though additional guidance may be issued.
The following sections describe select, PA-authorized emergency sheltering options used in the wake of
recent and past disasters, as well as FEMA's interim sheltering policy and guidance during COVID-19.
Sheltering options may vary depending on post-disaster needs and shelter availability.

Congregate Shelters
FEMA usually supports emergency congregate shelters (i.e., facilities with large, open spaces, such as
schools and community centers), and may reimburse associated costs, including facility leasing and
                                                              Congressional Research Service
                                                                https://crsreports.congress.gov
                                                                                   IN 11440

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