NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

FEMA Law Encourages Federal Assistance

February 5, 2015

During Ronald Reagan's presidency in the 1980s, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared an average of 28 disasters each year -- states and localities took primary responsibility for disaster responses. Today, however, the agency declares 130 disasters annually, responding to disasters every 2.8 days. Why? A new report from David Inserra of the Heritage Foundation explains - in 1998, Congress passed the Stafford Act, which included two provisions that encouraged FEMA action:

  • The Stafford Act makes the federal government responsible for three-fourths of disaster response costs, incentivizing states to ask for federal aid as much as possible. Moreover, states prepare less for disasters by setting aside fewer funds, further creating the need for federal assistance.
  • The bill's wording is relatively vague, setting a low bar for federal disaster assistance. Additionally, it requires damages of more than $1.40 per person in order to spark FEMA assistance, which Inserra says adds up to less than $1 million for some states.

The solution? Inserra says Congress should place just 25 percent of disaster response costs on the federal government. Such a requirement would also be fairer to the federal taxpayers living in states that face few disasters. He also encourages Congress to clarify the Stafford Act and limit the situations that can prompt FEMA aid.

Source: David Inserra, "FEMA Reform Needed: Congress Must Act," Heritage Foundation, February 4, 2015.


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