Federal Stafford Act Disaster Assistance: Presidential Declarations, Eligible Activities, and Funding [Updated April 28, 2006] [open pdf - 184KB]
"The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to issue major disaster or emergency declarations in response to catastrophes that overwhelm state and local governments. Such declarations result in the distribution of a wide range of federal aid to individuals and families, certain nonprofit organizations, and public agencies. The forms of assistance authorized by the Stafford Act include temporary housing, grants for personal uninsured needs of families and individuals, repair of public infrastructure, emergency communications systems, and other forms of assistance. Congress appropriates money for activities authorized by the Stafford Act to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Appropriations to the DRF remain available until expended. Because the Stafford Act provides the President with permanent authority to direct federal aid to stricken states, Congress need not enact new authorizing legislation to meet immediate needs when disasters occur. However, the widespread and costly damages from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and other disasters continue to raise questions in the 109th Congress about the reach and effectiveness of the Stafford Act."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33053