On September 19, 2012, the House of Representatives passed, under suspension of the rules, HR 2903, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Reauthorization Act of 2011, which contains a provision empowering Indian tribes to directly request a declaration of an emergency or major disaster from the President rather than making this request through a state government. (Our General Memorandum 12-038 of March 9, 2012, reports on the bill’s markup in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.)
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate released a statement (attached) praising the House vote on the bill. Amending the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) so that Indian tribes can directly request a declaration of an emergency or major disaster from the President is FEMA’s only legislative priority for the 112th Congress. Tribes have long-advocated for this direct authority.
What’s next? Efforts to amend the Stafford Act with this tribal provision enjoy strong bipartisan support, thanks largely to the efforts of Representatives Rahall (D-WV) and Denham (R-CA). Senator Tester (D-MT) has introduced legislation (S 2283) which is specific to direct tribal authority under the Stafford Act as opposed to being a broad FEMA reauthorization bill. We understand that a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee markup of S 2283 is tentatively scheduled for November after Congress returns from the elections. Approval of the Tester bill by the Committee would enhance the chances of a final FEMA reauthorization bill containing a provision authorizing tribes to directly apply to FEMA for a disaster declaration. The National Congress of American Indians and others are encouraging that letters be sent to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members in support of S 2283.
Please let us know if we may provide further information or assistance regarding the efforts to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act with regard to tribal authority.