By Robin Postell
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
These are historical times. We are all charged with the responsibility of recording it through our thoughts, photographs, reports and experiences, in any way possible.
On Friday, March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump releases a letter on the “Emergency Determination Under the Stafford Act.
The letter, addressed to Secretary Wolf, Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Azar, and Administrator Gaynor reads, in part:
I have determined that the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant an emergency determination under section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S. C. 5121-5207 (the “Stafford Act.)”
My decision to make this determination pursuant to section 501(b) of the Stafford Act is based on the fact that our entire country is now facing a significant public health emergency. The World Health Organization has officially declared that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. As of the date of this declaration, 32 states, 3 territories, 4 tribes, and 1 tribal nation, spread geographically across our country, have declared a state of emergency as a result of the virus. Only the Federal Government can provide the necessary coordination to address a pandemic of this national size and scope caused by a pathogen introduced into our country. It is the preeminent responsibility of the Federal Government to take action to stem a nationwide pandemic that has its origins abroad, which implicates its authority to regulate matters related to interstate matters and foreign commerce and to conduct the foreign relations of the United States. For example, the Federal Government, through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its component, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has authority to take the necessary steps “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession,” 42 U.SC. 264(a), close coordination with State, local, and tribal officials. In addition, the Federal Government has the responsibility for securing our borders and overseeing entry of foreign nationals into our country in the interest of the United States.WhiteHouse.gov, “Letter from President Donald J. Trump on Determination Under the Stafford Act
The letter goes on to say that the pandemic has the potential to “cause severe consequences for our country’s national and economic security.”
Given that this was nearly a week ago, it communicates that Trump seemed to be far more aware of the width and depth of the coronavirus than he was exhibiting in many of his televised appearances.
Trump goes on to say that:
“…based on the advice of public health officials, I have already taken stringent measures to restrict travel to the United States of foreign nationals who have been recently physically present in certain countries that pose a threat of intensifying the spread of COVID-19 within our country…”
The letter notes that while the actions taken are in the best interest of the health of the people, COVID-19 has the potential to impose a temporary financial hardship on “all Americans,” and that it is “critical” that all powers and authorities available to the Federal Government be deployed to provide needed relief.
What does this mean?
Trump “hereby determines” that a nationwide emergency does exist and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may provide assistance for emergency protective measures “not authorized under other Federal statutes.”
What exactly does assistance for emergency protective measures not authorized under other Federal statutes mean?
Trump adds that he is instructing Secretary Mnuchin to “provide relief from tax deadlines to Americans who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency, as appropriate, pursuant to 26. U.S.C. 7508A(a).
According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute website:
In general In the case of a taxpayer determined by the Secretary to be affected by a federally declared disaster (as defined by section 165(i)(5)(A)) or a terroristic or military action (as defined in section 692(c)(2)), the Secretary may specify a period of up to 1 year that may be disregarded in determining, under the internal revenue laws, in respect of any tax liability of such taxpayer—(1)whether any of the acts described in paragraph (1) of section 7508(a) were performed within the time prescribed therefor (determined without regard to extension under any other provision of this subtitle for periods after the date (determined by the Secretary) of such disaster or action),(2)the amount of any interest, penalty, additional amount, or addition to the tax for periods after such date, and(3)the amount of any credit or refund.(b)Special rules regarding pensions, etc.
In the case of a pension or other employee benefit plan, or any sponsor, administrator, participant, beneficiary, or other person with respect to such plan, affected by a disaster or action described in subsection (a), the Secretary may specify a period of up to 1 year which may be disregarded in determining the date by which any action is required or permitted to be completed under this title. No plan shall be treated as failing to be operated in accordance with the terms of the plan solely as the result of disregarding any period by reason of the preceding sentence.(c)Special rules for overpayments
The rules of section 7508(b) shall apply for purposes of this section.Cornell Law, Legal Law Institute
President Trump adds that:
In addition, after careful consideration, I believe that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude nationwide that requests for a declaration of a major disaster as set forth in section 401(a) of the Stafford act may be appropriate.White House letter regarding Stafford Act
Stafford Act, 401(a) reads:
TITLE IV—MAJOR DISASTERStafford Act, Title 4, Major Disaster Assistance Programs
SEC. 401. PROCEDURE FOR DECLARATION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—All requests for a declaration by the President that a major disaster exists shall be made by the Governor
of the affected State. Such a request shall be based on a finding
that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective
response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the affected
local governments and that Federal assistance is necessary. As part
of such request, and as a prerequisite to major disaster assistance
under this Act, the Governor shall take appropriate response action
under State law and direct execution of the State’s emergency plan.
The Governor shall furnish information on the nature and amount
of State and local resources which have been or will be committed
to alleviating the results of the disaster, and shall certify that, for
the current disaster, State and local government obligations and
expenditures (of which State commitments must be a significant
proportion) will comply with all applicable cost-sharing requirements of this Act. Based on the request of a Governor under this section, the President may declare under this Act that a major disaster or emergency exists.
Trump ends the letter encouraging all governers and tribal leaders to consider requesting Federal assistance under this provision of the Stafford Act, pursuant to the statutory criteria.
“I stand ready to expeditiously consider any such request.
Donald J. TrumpWhite House letter from President Trump, Stafford Act
For those living in my home state of Georgia, here is a link regarding the Stafford Act/FEMA from 2003.