WASHINGTON, DC – According to news reports, President Trump plans to declare a national emergency over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, opening the door to additional federal aid for states, municipalities, individuals and small businesses. U.S. Senator Jack Reed supports the move and says it will help free up federal aid for states overwhelmed by the outbreak.
Reed, who sent a letter to President Trump earlier this week urging him to make a disaster declaration, says it will enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to tap the $42 billion Disaster Relief Fund available to assist local and state governments in their coronavirus response efforts. It would also allow the federal agency to deploy personnel to assist states with the response to the virus.
“Even if this is belated, it is a major step that shows the Trump Administration is no longer trying to downplay the situation and finally grasps the severity of this crisis. This is a national health emergency and it requires a coordinated, national response. Unlocking the Disaster Relief Fund is a much-needed and overdue step that will help save lives,” said Senator Reed. “Now that President Trump is issuing this declaration, the White House should act quickly to approve state’s requests for help. We need to apply every tool available to help communities that have been hit hardest by the outbreak so we can help mitigate the damage.”
Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, helped include $17.8 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund in the fiscal year 2020 Appropriations law, boosting the total level of disaster funding available to over $42.6 billion. The funds are designed to support response to and recovery from major disasters.
Under a national emergency declaration, decisions such as quarantines and school closing are still made at the local, not the national, level.
In a letter to President Trump on March 11, Senator Reed and 30 of his Senate colleagues wrote: “We urge you to consult with Governors and immediately consider any Disaster Declaration requests pursuant to the Stafford Act for states preparing for and responding to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. As the number of confirmed cases increases across the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should utilize the $42.643 billion currently available in the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to assist state and local governments in their efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health. This would not be an unprecedented action, President Clinton issued an Emergency Declaration under the Stafford Act in 2000 for New York and New Jersey and utilized this authority to pay for mosquito abatement. COVID-19 must be addressed swiftly and effectively, with all federal resources made available to impacted communities and tribes.”
In addition to using the resources of the Disaster Relief Fund, Senator Reed also called on the Trump Administration to improve the United States’ ability to test for the coronavirus and share information with the public. Reed also called for the President to:
• Address the shortage of tests by expediting the approval of labs who are ready and willing to provide testing.
• Provide the public with daily updates on the volume and results of tests.
• Support the use of automated testing to increase the number of tests being conducted.
• Ensure cost-free tests to patients who need them but can’t afford them.
• Ensure COVID-19 hotlines are fully staffed and responsive to patients and providers who have questions and concerns.
Senator Reed stressed that it is critical that the federal government be a reliable partner and that state and federal officials work together to protect the American people. He also reiterated that science and public health experts – not political considerations – must guide decisions and shape the response.
“Transparency, coordination, and communication are key,” concluded Senator Reed. “The Trump Administration’s initial response to coronavirus was slow out of the gate and now the country is left playing catch up. But I’m committed to working with anyone to contain this outbreak and mitigate the spread and the damage.”