This Insight provides a brief overview of emergency and major disaster declarations relevant to Hurricane Florence, and selected federal resources and links to CRS products related to emergency and disaster declarations, disaster response, and recovery.
Hurricane Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, NC, as a category 1 hurricane on September 14, 2018. In anticipation of the landfall, President Trump has issued emergency declarations to Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (referred to as the Stafford Act—42 U.S.C. §§5721 et seq.), emergency declarations trigger aid for protecting property, public health and safety, and other activities that lessen or avert an incident becoming a catastrophic event.
Historically, Congress has expressed interest in the declaration process and the types of assistance those declarations authorize following a major disaster. When considering whether to request an emergency or major disaster declaration under the Stafford Act, the governor/chief may first decide whether the incident is severe enough to warrant assembling a traditional Preliminary Damage Assessment team to survey the damaged area. This decision rests primarily with the governor's judgment on whether a situation is "beyond the capabilities of the state." Under the Stafford Act, the President is authorized to declare an emergency or major disaster to authorize federal supplemental assistance.
Once approved, a declaration can be amended to add counties and types of assistance as warranted. The President can also amend major disaster declarations to decrease the state cost-share requirements for some of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) Public Assistance grants. Additionally, the President can authorize FEMA Individual Assistance grants.
When the President declares a major disaster FEMA advises the President about the types of FEMA-administered federal assistance available to disaster victims, states, localities, and tribes. The primary types of assistance provided under a major disaster declaration include funding through the Public, Mitigation, and the Individual Assistance programs.
Typically, Congress also expresses interest in funding following a disaster declaration. FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) is the primary source of federal government resources for response and recovery activities. It is often used as an indicator of the overall availability of federal resources for response and recovery.
As a result of annual and supplemental appropriations provided in FY2017 and FY2018, the balance in the DRF stood at slightly more than $26.5 billion in unobligated balances on September 1, 2018, almost $25.6 billion of which is specifically set aside for the costs of major disasters. These funds do not expire at the end of the fiscal year, and are to remain available until expended. To put these funding levels in perspective, in the three months after Hurricane Sandy struck, the DRF obligated roughly $3.4 billion. When Hurricane Harvey struck, the DRF balance was roughly $3.5 billion. FEMA's monthly DRF report summarizes DRF activities as well as lists the available DRF balance at https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/31789.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is the primary source of flood insurance coverage for residential properties. Homeowners and tenants with NFIP flood insurance can make flood damage claims using the normal NFIP claims process. FEMA may institute a claims process specific to Hurricane Florence at a later date.
As of July 31, 2018, the NFIP had $5.9 billion in the National Flood Insurance Fund, as well as $9.9 billion of borrowing authority from the Treasury and up to $1.96 billion of reinsurance for a single flood event with losses over $4 billion.
A list of emergency and major disaster declarations can be located at https://www.fema.gov/disasters. Declarations can be searched by state, incident type, and declaration type. For other FEMA public information see:
CRS has a wide array of written products on various aspects of federal emergency management policy. The following materials provide more detailed information on policies, programs, and processes for disaster declarations and assistance.
In addition, numerous CRS experts are available to assist Congress by request. See CRS reports: