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He said it was the first time in the nation’s history that a president used the act to declare a major disaster response to a public health crisis.
“After careful consideration, I believe that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude nationwide that requests for a declaration of a major disaster as set forth in section 401(a) of the Stafford Act may be appropriate,” Trump wrote in a letter to his administration on Friday, March 13.
President Bill Clinton did invoke the Stafford Act in 2000 in response to outbreaks of West Nile virus in New York and New Jersey.
Known formally as the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, it is intended to be invoked during natural disasters and emergencies as a way to help state and local governments’ relief efforts. It specifically allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – part of the Department of Homeland Security – to provide additional aid measures under circumstances where the resources and capabilities of state, tribal and local governments are overwhelmed.
Assistance can be delivered in many forms, from financial to logistical aid. During a pandemic, it can include delivering emergency medical supplies, temporary medical facilities, food, water and medicine.
Aid through the act has been requested to address everything from mass shootings to terrorist attacks.
As of Wednesday night, there were more than 63,870 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 849 fatalities. Nearly half of those cases were in the state of New York.