"Until last month, Tribal Nations under the Stafford Act have been labeled as political subdivisions of the state in which they reside. This changed in January when Congress adopted the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill (H.R. 152), where the intent originally was to provide $50 Billion dollars in relief to areas that suffered damage from the storm. More important for Indian Country, the Bill included enabling legislation to amend the Stafford Act and now allows Tribal Nations to have the opportunity to directly request a disaster declaration from the White House and eventually receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the event of disaster.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told the USET Board of Directors the quest to have the Stafford Act amended to give Tribes the ability make requests for disaster declarations and federal assistance directly rather than getting state approval first was going to be an impossible task. “We (FEMA) came around to the idea that this was the right thing to do. It was mainly a benefit to recognize the trust relationship with the Tribes,” Fugate told USET. He added that there was no benefit for FEMA to support such a change. In fact it added more work to the FEMA staff. Prior to the passage of the Sandy Relief Bill last month, there were only 54 states or territories that could make disaster declaration requests. Now, that many governmental bodies plus over 500 Tribal Nations can make that request. Fugate says leadership from President Obama was paramount to help make the change because the White House had meaningful consultations with Tribal Nations."
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