Stafford Act

Updated: February 20, 2021
In this Article

    The Stafford Act The Stafford Act is a United States federal law enacted in 1988 expanding aid to encompass a direct plan for state and local organizations to deliver relief to the general public during times of emergency or major disaster.

    History of the Stafford Act

    The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act was amended to replace the Disaster Relief Act of 1974. The Act was named after the Vermont Senator Robert Stafford who, with his help, was signed into law by President Ronald Regan.

    At the time, more than 100 disaster and relief organizations belonged to the Act. The law was amended in 1988 and again in 2000 with the Disaster Mitigation Act. These revisions broadened aid to citizens and formed the comprehensive Stafford Act we know today.

    FEMA and Homeland Security

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an agency under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security. FEMA supports the plan directed by the Department of Homeland Security and employs over 28 federal and non-federal organizations.

    There were similar systems in place throughout the history of the United States, but FEMA is the largest entity of homeland security to employ in the event of a natural disaster. Notably, FEMA’s efforts involve fieldwork with non-federal organizations such as the American Red Cross but also expand to include specialty and research services to state and local governments.

    Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 (DRRA)

    In 2018, President Trump signed the DRRA into law, an amendment to the Stafford Act. The revisions granted more funding and mitigating protocols in the event of catastrophic natural disasters.

    DRRA provided the following benefits to the public:

    • Permitted the National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, allocating funds to community preparedness and public infrastructure.
    • Fire Management Assistance Grants in response to the Carr and Mendocino Complex fires in 2018.
    • Assistance to survivors with disabilities.
    • Training and retainment of highly skilled first responders.


    President Trump released his letter to the public on the White House page, officially instating the Stafford Act to declare a national emergency after the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak breached the U.S. The statement allowed $40 billion in funding for relief and aid efforts.

    The statement issued a request for travel bans to Europe, as well as delegating tasks to the Department of Human and Health Services and allowing state officials to designate federal provisions for aid.

    In the letter addressed to acting Secretaries Wolf, Mnuchin, and Secretary Azar, and Administrator Gaynor, President Trump expressed his reasons for invoking the Stafford Act, “COVID-19 has the potential to impose a temporary financial hardship on all Americans. It is therefore critical that we deploy all powers and authorities available to the Federal Government to provide needed relief.”

    How is the Stafford Act Implemented?

    After the Stafford Act is enacted, state governors must declare a state of emergency requesting provisions for relief and aid. Further steps are outlined in the titles below.

    Titles of the Stafford Act

    Title I- Findings, Declarations, and Definitions

    Title I explains the purpose of disaster relief and defines roles and responsibilities within the Act.

    The Stafford Act prevents disasters that threaten public and health safety from becoming catastrophic. Assistance is provided to all fifty states and includes D.C., Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Additionally, the Stafford Act covers reservations located in the U.S.

    Title II- Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation Assistance

    Title II permits the President to request technical and financial assistance to develop predisaster hazard programs. Disaster warning systems and other communications systems are implemented by the President and other local governments. Often, the Director of FEMA plays a vital role in Mitigation Assistance.

    Title III- Major Disaster and Emergency Assistance Administration

    Title III appoints a federal coordinating officer by way of the President of the United States. The role of the administration is to ensure efficiency and support to state, local, and non-federal organizations.

    Title IV- Major Disaster Assistance Programs

    This title allows governors to request additional relief and aid from the federal government. In the event that the disaster overwhelms available state resources, the federal government can provide evacuation assistance, issue warnings, and give further medical and food assistance to the public.

    Title V- Emergency Assistance Programs

    Title V outlines the state of emergency. The state governor must set forth motions to declare a state of emergency and receive funds for relief and aid. The President has presiding authority to declare a state of emergency without the governor’s declaration.

    Title VI- Emergency Preparedness

    There are specific measures that must be put in place when an emergency is declared. This is typically the responsibility of the director of FEMA, who will designate shelters, operations, volunteer efforts, construct warnings, and inventory necessary supplies.

    Title VII- Miscellaneous

    Title VII includes all other powers made by the President during disasters. Additionally, payment and firearm policies are included under this title.


    • Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000
    • Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006
    • DRRA of 2018

    About The AuthorCristina Van Orden is a literary writer and active military spouse. She holds an MFA from Antioch University and taught K-12 English before working in editorial. Cristina currently resides on base with her husband and children.

    Written by Team