Here’s what Trump’s declaration of coronavirus emergency means

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus pandemic an emergency by invoking a law known as the Stafford Act.

Here’s how the Stafford Act works and the powers the declaration unlocks.


The law, enacted in 1988, empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist state and local governments during “natural catastrophes” and coordinate the nation’s response.

FEMA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, controls more than $40 billion in federal funding set aside by Congress for disaster relief. FEMA could use that funding to help build medical facilities and transport patients, among other measures.

Only the president can declare a major disaster under the law.

“We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday. “I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”

Trump has invoked the Stafford Act many times during his presidency, approving major disaster declarations to address flooding in the Midwest and wildfires in California, among other events.

FEMA is commonly associated with natural disaster responses but the agency can also address pandemics.

In 2000, former President Bill Clinton used a Stafford Act emergency declaration to pay for mosquito control efforts to address outbreaks of the West Nile virus in New Jersey and New York.


A different government agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, declared the coronavirus a public health emergency in late January and has been the lead agency addressing the pandemic.

HHS’s declaration, made under a different law than the Stafford Act, allowed U.S. officials to impose restrictions on individuals entering the country from China, among other measures.

Several state governments have declared emergencies, allowing them to mandate containment zones like the one in New Rochelle, New York, and address price-gouging.


Last year, Trump declared an emergency on the U.S.-Mexican border to circumvent Congress and take money already designated for other programs to pay for his wall on the souther border, which he promised to build during his 2016 campaign.

That declaration was made under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. The law does not define “emergency,” giving the president broad discretion to declare one.

An emergency declaration under the National Emergencies Act unlocks sweeping presidential powers, like the ability to seize control of the internet or suspend laws, while a Stafford Act declaration deals only with FEMA.

In 2009, former President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 influenza, or “swine flu,” pandemic to be a national emergency under that law.

Obama’s declaration waived some federal health insurance rules to speed treatment.

Related Posts:
Oversight Board reverses Facebook removal of post touting hydroxychloroquine
Speaking About News

The board found the social media giant's misinformation and imminent harm rule is too vague and recommended the platform consolidate Read more

Evers’ COVID Vaccine Fiasco
Speaking About News

M.D. Kittle, MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers has assumed the “CYA” position following the debacle that has been his administration’s distribution of the Read more

Devin Nunes seeks intelligence on coronavirus origins and Wuhan lab escape theory
Speaking About News

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee called on the Trump administration’s spy chief to provide details about the Read more

FDA Needs Double Dose of Reform and Reality
Speaking About News

Ross Marchand, In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had plenty on its plate in 2020. Read more

Send this to a friend