Fire Management Assistance Grants: Frequently Asked Questions

Section 420 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, hereinafter the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to “declare” a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG). In the interest of saving time, the authority to make the declaration has been delegated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Regional Administrators. Once issued, the FMAG declaration authorizes various forms of federal fire suppression assistance such as the provision of equipment, personnel, and grants to state, local, and tribal governments for the control, management, and mitigation of any fire on certain public or private forest land or grassland that might become a major disaster. This federal assistance requires a cost-sharing component such that state, local, and tribal governments are responsible for 25% of the expenses.

This report answers frequently asked questions about FMAGs. This report will be updated as events warrant.

Fire Management Assistance Grants: Frequently Asked Questions

Updated February 14, 2019 (R43738)
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Contents

Summary

Section 420 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, hereinafter the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to "declare" a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG). In the interest of saving time, the authority to make the declaration has been delegated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) Regional Administrators. Once issued, the FMAG declaration authorizes various forms of federal fire suppression assistance such as the provision of equipment, personnel, and grants to state, local, and tribal governments for the control, management, and mitigation of any fire on certain public or private forest land or grassland that might become a major disaster. This federal assistance requires a cost-sharing component such that state, local, and tribal governments are responsible for 25% of the expenses.

This report answers frequently asked questions about FMAGs. This report will be updated as events warrant.


Introduction

Section 420 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, hereinafter the Stafford Act)1 authorizes the President to "declare" a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG). The current FMAG system was established by regulation in October of 2001.2 These grants provide federal assistance for fire suppression activities. This authority has been delegated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) Regional Administrators.3 Once issued, the FMAG declaration authorizes various forms of federal assistance such as the provision of equipment, personnel, and grants to state, local, and tribal governments for the control, management, and mitigation of any fire on certain public or private forest land or grassland that might become a major disaster.4 This federal assistance requires a cost-sharing component such that state, local, and tribal governments are responsible for 25% of the expenses.

This report discusses the most frequently asked questions received by the Congressional Research Service on FMAGs. It addresses questions regarding how FMAGs are requested, how requests are evaluated using thresholds, and the types of assistance provided under an FMAG declaration.

Declaration Process

How are FMAGs Requested?

FMAGs can be requested by a state when the governor determines that a fire is burning out of control and threatens to become a major disaster. At that point, a request for assistance can be submitted to FEMA. Typically, requests are submitted to the FEMA Regional Administrator. Requests can be submitted any time—day or night—and can be submitted by telephone to expedite the process. Telephone requests must be followed by written confirmation within 14 days of the phone request.5

Can a Tribal Leader Request an FMAG Declaration?

Under the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (SRIA, Division B of P.L. 113-2), tribes are equivalent to states in their ability to request a major disaster declaration, an emergency declaration, or a request for an FMAG declaration.6

Note that some tribal land holdings are administered by the federal government and, therefore, receive fire suppression support through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). The NIFC supports interagency "wildland" firefighting efforts on federal lands by the U.S. Forest Service, National Weather Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FEMA's U.S. Fire Administration.7 Unlike FMAGs, such support generally does not require tribes to reimburse firefighting costs (FMAGs require the state to pay a 25% cost-share). In addition, tribes with their own fire suppression resources may receive reimbursement from BIA for their costs related to fire suppression on tribal lands.8

What Information Needs to Be Included in the FMAG Request?

The FMAG request should include cost estimates to support the request as well as information about the fire including the size of the fire(s) in acres or square miles, the population of the community (or communities) threatened, the number of persons evacuated (if applicable), weather conditions, and the degree to which state and local resources are committed to this fire and other fires in federal, state, and/or local jurisdictions. The verbal request must be followed up with a completed "Request for Fire Management Assistance Declaration" (FEMA form 078-0-1) and the "Principal Advisor's Report" (FEMA form 078-0-2).9

How Is FMAG Assistance Determined?

The following criteria are used to evaluate wildfires and make a determination whether to issue an FMAG:

  • the threat to lives and property including critical facilities, infrastructures, and watershed areas;
  • the availability of state and local fire resources;
  • high fire danger conditions based on nationally accepted indices such as the National Fire Danger Ratings System; and
  • the potential economic impacts of the fire.

In addition, FEMA has developed fire cost thresholds that are typically updated on an annual basis. There are two types of fire cost thresholds used to help determine if a state or tribal nation is eligible for fire assistance: (1) individual thresholds for a single fire, and (2) cumulative thresholds for multiple fires. Cumulative thresholds are applied to multiple fires burning simultaneously, or the accumulation of multiple fires in a single fire season. Threshold amounts vary by state (see Table 1). Taking Pennsylvania as an example, generally, a single fire would need to meet or exceed $927,274 in damages for Pennsylvania to be eligible for an FMAG declaration.

In contrast, the formula for the cumulative fire threshold for a given state is one of two amounts—$500,000 or the amount of that state's individual fire threshold multiplied by three, whichever is greater. Returning to the Pennsylvania example, the sum of three individual fire thresholds equals $2,781,822. Since that amount is larger than $500,000, cumulative fire damages in Pennsylvania must meet or exceed $2,781,822 to be eligible for assistance. In contrast, the individual fire threshold for Alaska is $100,000, but the cumulative threshold is $500,000, not the sum of three individual fire thresholds ($300,000).

Table 1. Selected Examples of CY2018 Individual and Cumulative Fire Thresholds by State

State

Individual Threshold

Cumulative Threshold

Alaska

$100,000

$500,000

California

$2,719,539

$8,158,616

Pennsylvania

$927,274

$2,781,821

Texas

$1,835,626

$5,506,878

West Virginia

$135,269

$500,000

Source: FEMA, "CY2018 Fire Cost Threshold." Obtained through correspondence with FEMA Congressional Affairs. The states were selected to illustrate how the individual and cumulative fire thresholds are calculated and applied.

Can Denials for FMAG Assistance Be Appealed?

If FEMA denies the request for assistance, the state has one opportunity to appeal the denial. The appeal must be submitted in writing to the Regional Administrator no later than 30 days from the date of the denial letter. The appeal should contain any additional information that strengthens the original request for assistance. The Regional Administrator will review the appeal, prepare a recommendation, and forward the appeal package to the FEMA Headquarters Office. The FEMA Headquarters Office will notify the state of its determination in writing within 90 days of receipt of the appeal (or receipt of additional requested information).

The state may request a time extension to submit the appeal. The request for an extension must be submitted in writing to the Regional Administrator no later than 30 days from the date of the denial letter. The request for an extension must include a justification for the need for an extension. The FEMA Headquarters Office will notify the state in writing whether the extension request is granted or denied.

Does an FMAG Exclude the Possibility of an Emergency or Major Disaster Declaration Under the Stafford Act?

No, an emergency or major disaster can be declared after an FMAG declaration has been issued. However, the emergency or major disaster declaration must be initiated by a separate request for assistance by the state or tribal government.

Funding

How Are FMAGs Funded?

FMAGs are funded through FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), the main account FEMA uses to provide disaster assistance.10 The DRF is a no-year account—unused funds from the previous fiscal year are carried over to the next fiscal year.

Funds in the DRF fall into two categories. The first category is for disaster relief costs associated with major disasters under the Stafford Act. This category reflects the impact of the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25, BCA), which allows appropriations to cover the costs incurred as a result of major disasters to be paid through an "allowable adjustment" to the discretionary spending limits.11 The second category is colloquially known as "base funding." Base funding includes activities not tied to major disasters under the Stafford Act. Base funding is scored as discretionary spending that counts against the discretionary spending limits, whereas FMAGs are funded through the DRF's base funding category.

Can FMAGs Still Be Issued If the DRF Balance Is Low?

The decision to issue a FMAG declaration is not contingent on the DRF balance. Similarly, FMAGs do not reduce the amount of funding available for major disasters. When the DRF balance was low in the past, FEMA used its "immediate needs funding" (INF) policy until supplemental appropriations were passed to replenish the DRF. Under INF, long-term projects (such as mitigation work) are put on hold and only activities deemed urgent are funded. FMAGs would most likely fall into the category of events with an "urgent" need. Under the INF policy, FEMA also delays interagency reimbursements, and recovers funds from previous years in order to stretch its available funds.

What Are the Cost-Share Requirements for FMAGs?

As with many other Stafford Act disaster assistance grant programs (Public Assistance, Hazard Mitigation Grant assistance, Other Needs Assistance) the cost-share for FMAGs is based on a federal share of 75% of eligible expenses. The grantee (the state) and subgrantees (local communities) assume the remaining 25% of eligible costs.12

Does FEMA Advance Funds to States or Reimburse States for Completed Work?

Under the FMAG process, FEMA reimburses grantees for eligible activities they have undertaken. The state application for specific grant funds must be submitted within 90 days after the FMAG is granted. That time frame permits the state to gather all information and supporting data on potentially eligible spending to include in their grant application package. The package must also stipulate that the fire cost threshold was met.13 Following submission of the grant application FEMA has 45 days to approve or deny the application.

FMAG Assistance

What Types of Assistance Are Provided Under an FMAG Declaration?

FMAG assistance is similar in some basic respects to other FEMA assistance. For example, FMAGs will not replicate or displace the work of other federal agencies, nor will FEMA pay straight-time salaries for public safety forces, though it will reimburse overtime expenses for the event. Other eligible expenses can include costs for

  • equipment and supplies (less insurance proceeds);
  • mobilization and demobilization;
  • emergency work (evacuations and sheltering, police barricading and traffic control, arson investigation);
  • prepositioning federal, out-of-state, and international resources for up to 21 days when approved by the FEMA Regional Administrator;
  • personal comfort and safety items for firefighter health and safety;
  • field camps and meals in lieu of per diem; and/or
  • the mitigation, management, and control of declared fires burning on comingled federal land, when such costs are not reimbursable by another federal agency.

Is Mitigation Funding Included in an FMAG Declaration?

Until recently, only major disaster declarations made statewide hazard mitigation grants available. Division D of P.L. 115-254 (Disaster Recovery Reform Act, hereinafter DRRA) amended the Stafford Act to make hazard mitigation available for FMAG declarations as well. Under Section 404 of the Stafford Act as amended by DRRA, mitigation grants from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) are provided to states and tribes on a sliding scale based on the percentage of funds spent for FMAG assistance. For states and federally recognized tribes with a FEMA-approved Standard State or Tribal Mitigation Plan, the formula provides for up to 15% of the first $2 billion of estimated aggregate amounts of disaster assistance, up to 10% for amounts between $2 billion and $10 billion, and 7.5% for amounts between $10 billion and $35.333 billion.14

Interaction with Other Federal Agencies

How Are FMAGs Different from Other Types of Federal Fire Assistance?

FEMA assistance through FMAGs is a direct relationship with the states to assist the state in fighting the fire on state lands. FMAGs are employed so a disaster declaration may not be necessary. The Forest Service and other federal agencies do provide other types of assistance related to wildfire management, such as postfire recovery assistance, or assistance planning and mitigating the potential risk from future wildfires. Most of these programs provide financial and technical assistance to state partners.15 In addition, other USDA agencies administer various other programs to provide disaster recovery assistance to nonfederal forest landowners, including the Emergency Forest Restoration Program and the Emergency Watershed Program.16

Can FMAG Assistance Be Provided in Conjunction with Assistance from the Forest Service, or Is It Considered a Duplication of Benefits?

This depends on the type of assistance being provided by the Forest Service. FMAG assistance is not generally available in conjunction with emergency suppression assistance from the Forest Service, or any other federal agency engaged in suppression operations. FMAGs provide assistance for suppression operations on nonfederal lands, whereas suppression operations on federal lands are the responsibility of the federal agency with jurisdiction. Limited exceptions may occur for declared fires on lands in which the ownership is comingled federal and nonfederal, and the costs incurred by the eligible entity are not entitled to any other type of federal reimbursement.17 However, FMAGs may be provided in conjunction with other Forest Service assistance programs, such as any technical and financial assistance provided through the agency's state and volunteer fire assistance programs or state and private forestry office.

FMAG and other federal assistance may potentially occur in conjunction when there is a cooperative agreement between federal, state, and other governmental or tribal partners to coordinate emergency wildfire protection and response activities.18 The cooperative agreement often delineates different geographic areas where the state government is responsible for initial suppression operations, regardless of land ownership, and vice versa, where the federal government may be responsible for providing suppression operations in lands under nonfederal ownership. The cooperative agreements (sometimes referred to as "fire compacts") specify how costs are to be apportioned among the partners, including provisions allowing for reimbursement, in accordance with applicable federal and state statutes. In the circumstance where a state (or other eligible entity) conducted suppression operations on federal land and the costs were not reimbursable, an FMAG may potentially be applied for and used to cover eligible costs.

Do FMAGs Assist with Fires on Federal Lands?

No, most fires that begin on federal land are the responsibility of the federal agency that owns or manages the land, and are not eligible to receive FMAG assistance.19 There are some exceptions, however. For example, FMAGs may be available to assist with declared fires that occur in areas with a mix of federal and nonfederal land, if the state has a responsibility for suppression activities under a cooperative agreement with the applicable federal agency, and those costs are not reimbursable under another federal statute.20

Author Contact Information

Bruce R. Lindsay, Analyst in American National Government ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
Katie Hoover, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Acknowledgments

Jared C. Nagel, Senior Research Librarian, helped compile information for this report.

Footnotes

1.

42 U.S.C. §5121 et seq. For further analysis on the Stafford Act, see CRS Report R43784, FEMA's Disaster Declaration Process: A Primer, by Bruce R. Lindsay.

2.

44 C.F.R. §152. Prior to that time, the program was known as the Fire Suppression Assistance Program. The program, however, was administered in a similar fashion. Then, as now, the FEMA Regional Administrators worked with the requesting state, the "Principal Advisor," as well as FEMA leadership prior to the announcement of Stafford Act assistance under Section 420.

3.

44 C.F.R. §204.24. There are ten FEMA regions in the United States and its territories. Each region is headed by a FEMA Regional Administrator who oversees all policy, managerial, resource, and administrative actions that affect the region. The FEMA Regional Administrator is also responsible for ensuring that policies, programs, and administrative and management guidance are implemented in a manner consistent with FEMA's overall goals.

4.

P.L. 93-288, codified at 42 U.S.C. §5187(a).

5.

44 C.F.R. §206.392. See also Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fire Management Assistance Grant Program Guide, FEMA P-954, February 2014, p. 10, at http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1394820975537-a279bff2a4a300676b870154acec922b/FMAG%20Guide%20Feb%202014_508.pdf.

6.

Section 1110 of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 amended Sections 401 and 501 of the Stafford Act, which contain the procedures for requesting types of disaster declarations. Previously, tribal groups were treated as local governments and thus not permitted to directly request declarations from the federal government. As with local governments, the tribes were dependent on a request being made by the governor of the state where their territory is located.

7.

For additional information, see http://www.nifc.gov/index.html.

8.

Information provided by FEMA's Office of Congressional Affairs, April 24, 2014.

9.

Declaration forms can be located at http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/26237?id=5789.

10.

For more information on the DRF, see CRS Report R43537, FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund: Overview and Selected Issues, by Bruce R. Lindsay.

11.

For more information on the BCA and disaster relief, see CRS Report R42352, An Examination of Federal Disaster Relief Under the Budget Control Act, by Bruce R. Lindsay, William L. Painter, and Francis X. McCarthy.

12.

While most FEMA assistance is cost-shared on a 75/25 basis a significant exception is the temporary housing program, which is 100% federal funding.

13.

Other agreements that must be in place include an approved State Administrative Plan, a FEMA-State Agreement for the incident and that the state has an approved State Mitigation Plan. While these are important steps they are also part of the ongoing, operational relationship between the state and the FEMA regional office and have likely been accomplished or can be accomplished or revised during the nine-month time frame.

14.

Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, at https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1437513326617-c124385de1b6061509f775a164c9aabd/FEMA_HMA_HMGP_tri_2015_508.pdf.

15.

For more information, see CRS Report RL31065, Forestry Assistance Programs, by Katie Hoover; and CRS In Focus IF10732, Federal Assistance for Wildfire Response and Recovery, by Katie Hoover.

16.

For more information, see CRS Report R42854, Emergency Assistance for Agricultural Land Rehabilitation, by Megan Stubbs.

17.

44 C.F.R. §204.42(i).

18.

For an example of a federal-state fire compact, see the California Master Cooperative Wildland Fire Management and Stafford Act Response Agreement, available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/fire-aviation/?cid=stelprdb537432. For an example of a federal, state, and international fire compact, see the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact, available at http://www.nffpc.org.

19.

44 C.F.R. §204.43(e). For more information, see CRS Report R44082, Wildfire Suppression Spending: Issues and Legislation in the 114th Congress.

20.

44 C.F.R. §204.42(i).