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               Research Service

Potential FEMA Emergency Sheltering

Options During the COVID-19 Pandemic

June  24, 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 support after a declaration
under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act; 42 U.S.C.
5121 et seq.). The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may complicate efforts to
provide sheltering in typical congregate settings. This Insight discusses potential emergency sheltering
models previously used by FEMA and challenges posed by COVID-19, as well as policy considerations.

Emergency Sheltering Solutions

The federal government may provide financial assistance through FEMA 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 declaration (FMAG). This
assistance is commonly referred to as Public Assistance (PA) Category B-Emergency Protective
Measures. When PA is authorized, FEMA will reimburse state, tribal, territorial, and local governments,
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 program guidance may
be issued for a specific incident.
FEMA  usually supports congregate sheltering in facilities with large, open spaces, such as schools and
community centers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, FEMA has acknowledged the need to
ensure appropriate social distancing. Thus, FEMA issued an interim policy for non-congregate sheltering
in the event of a Stafford Act declaration through December 31, 2020. FEMA also recommends sheltering
with friends or family and other housing solutions.
The following sections describe select, PA-authorized emergency sheltering solutions used in the wake of
past disasters, as well as FEMA's current interim sheltering policy. Emergency sheltering programs
offered may vary depending on post-disaster needs and shelter availability.

                                                               Congressional Research Service
                                                                                    IN 11440

Prepared for Members and
Committees of Cogress

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