WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to unlock additional aid for Rhode Island and other states impacted by the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), U.S. Senator Jack Reed is urging President Trump to issue an emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic.  A presidential declaration would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make over $42 billion from the 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.

On March 3, President Donald Trump said there is no immediate need to declare a national emergency.  Today, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic, which means the Administration should change course and prepare the possibility of further difficulties ahead. 

“This is a national health emergency and it requires a coordinated, national response.  While the immediate health risk to most Americans is low, Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified today the threat is rising and the challenges to mitigate the outbreak are many.  To date, the President has seemed to want to down-play the situation.  That’s not working and it’s had a real impact on things like testing.  Unlocking the Disaster Relief Fund is a much-needed step that will help save lives,” said Senator Reed.  “President Trump should act immediately to approve any state’s request for a disaster declaration in order to unlock additional federal aid and resources for states.  We need to apply every tool available to help states that have been hit hardest by the outbreak so we can help contain the spread.”

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 today, 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 is calling 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.  “We need more of all three and we need to provide additional resources.  I hope President Trump will work with us to do just that.”