FEMA and Disaster Relief
Publication Date: March 1998
Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps states and localities prepare for and cope with disasters that overwhelm their own capabilities. FEMA administers policies related to emergency management and planning, disaster relief, fire prevention, earthquake hazard reduction, emergency broadcasting services, flood insurance, mitigation programs, and dam safety.
President Clinton has requested $3.1 billion for FEMA in FY1999. The majority of the funds ($2.3 billion, or 75%) are requested as disaster relief funding that would only be available should the President and Congress designate it as emergency funding under the Balanced Budget Act. The remaining 25% ($844 million) would fund agency salaries, grants to state and local governments, and training activities, and would replenish the Disaster Relief Fund with $308 million. For the past 14 years, annual appropriations for FEMA have ranged from as little as $600 million to a high of approximately $5.9 billion, including supplemental measures. For FY1998, a total of $842 million is available, as appropriated in P.L. 105-65. In FY1997 a total of $5.1 billion was appropriated—$1.8 billion in the FY1997 appropriations legislation (P.L. 104-204) and $3.3 billion in supplemental appropriations (P.L. 105-18).
The principal federal authority for the provision of disaster relief is the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act). The act authorizes the President to issue major disaster or emergency declarations (the latter provide considerably less federal assistance than the former), sets out eligibility criteria, and specifies the types of assistance the President may authorize. Specifically, grants are provided to individuals to meet urgent housing needs, purchase necessary personal items, and obtain legal services needed as a result of the disaster. For state and local governments and non-profit corporations, funds are provided for the repair or reconstruction of infrastructure damaged or destroyed, for debris removal, and for the construction of protective measures. In addition to this assistance authorized under the Stafford Act, federal disaster assistance is provided by the Small Business Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and other agencies.
Funding for Stafford Act related activities varies from one year to another, depending on the severity and frequency of declared catastrophes. In recent years billions of dollars have been appropriated to help communities recover from Hurricane Andrew, the Northridge earthquake, and other incidents. In response to congressional demands, the Clinton Administration has submitted legislation (S. 1007/H.R. 2446) to reduce certain disaster relief expenditures. The legislation would also increase certain expenditures and federal authority for hazard mitigation activities.