Public Health and Medical Response to Disasters: Federal Authority and Funding [Updated June 23, 2008] [open pdf - 224KB]
This Congressional Research Service (CRS) report is an update to the report of the same name, that discusses the mechanisms in providing authority for disaster relief and emergency assistance and the flaws in delegation of responsibilities as evidenced by the Hurricane Katrina response. "When there is a catastrophe in the United States, state and local governments are principally responsible for response activities, and state and local legal authorities are the principal means to support these activities. When catastrophes overwhelm state and local response capabilities, the President (acting through the Secretary of Homeland Security) can provide assistance to stricken communities, individuals, governments, and not-for-profit groups to assist in response and recovery. Aid is provided under the authority of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) upon a presidential declaration. The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) also has both standing and emergency authorities in the Public Health Service (PHS) Act by which he can provide assistance in response to public health and medical emergencies. At this time, he has limited means, however, to finance activities that are ineligible, for whatever reason, for Stafford Act assistance. This report examines (1) the authorities and coordinating mechanisms of the President and the Secretary of HHS in providing routine assistance, and assistance pursuant to emergency or major disaster declarations and/or public health emergency determinations; (2) mechanisms to assure a coordinated federal response to public health and medical emergencies, and overlaps or gaps in agency responsibilities; and (3) existing mechanisms and potential gaps in financing the costs of a response to public health and medical emergencies. A listing of federal public health emergency authorities is provided in the Appendix. This report will be updated as needed."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33579