FEMA supports bill for tribes to request disaster declarations

The Obama administration is supporting legislation that allows tribes to request disaster declarations from the federal government.

Under the the Stafford Act, only states can request declarations. So the Federal Emergency Management Agency wants Congress to amend the law to recognize tribal sovereignty.

"Consistent with our strong government-to-government relationship, FEMA and the administration support amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the president for a federal emergency or disaster declaration,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “Tribal members are an essential part of the emergency management team, and amending the law would enhance FEMA’s working relationship with tribal governments and improve emergency and disaster responsiveness throughout Indian Country. We look forward to actively working with our tribal partners and members of Congress to support and facilitate the passage of such a change in the law.”

In May, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) introduced H.R.1953 to make the required change. The bill has 10 co-sponsors, including Republicans.

“Just like states, when disaster strikes, tribal nations must act swiftly to respond to protect and secure lives, infrastructure, and public health. We call on Congress to fix the Stafford Act and incorporate the sovereign status of tribal nations in this important law. These changes will also provide tribes and states critical flexibility in responding to catastrophic events when communities need it most,” Jefferson Keel, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a press release.

Fugate first announced the Obama administration's support for the effort at the White House Tribal Nations Conference last Friday. He made his remarks in a session that was closed to the press but Associate Attorney General Tom Perelli of the Department of Justice gave a summary later during the event.

Get the Story:
FEMA supports allowing tribes to ask for aid (AP 12/7)
FEMA Wants Tribes to be Equal to States (Indian Country Today 12/7)

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