The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act is dangerously out of date to provide rapid relief after a catastrophe

NYU (US)—Years after Hurricane Katrina and the September 11 attacks, the Federal government still lacks the legal authority to provide rapid financial assistance to residents, small businesses, and municipal governments following a major disaster.

That is the finding made by New York University Professor Mitchell Moss, who says the cornerstone Federal disaster relief legislation, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, is dangerously out of date and must be reformed to provide for rapid relief after a catastrophe.

Moss explains that the 1988 disaster relief act is woefully out of date and does not recognize 21st-century threats such as chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological attacks as legal grounds for a major disaster declaration. He also says the legislation fails to differentiate between disaster response for rural areas compared to the response needed to manage disasters in populated, urban areas.

“It is time for Congress to strengthen the nation’s capacity to respond to the catastrophes that we face in the 21st century,” writes Moss. “The time for action is now; we must create a new set of policies that can protect the nation from the risks of the modern era.”

To address the lingering shortcomings, Moss recommends that Congress take specific actions, including amend the definition of a “major disaster” to recognize modern threats, such as terrorist attacks; eliminate the $5 million cap on tax recovery assistance for state and local governments; allow FEMA to pay, in part or in full, the salaries of public employees in areas stricken by a catastrophe, and expand coverage for utility providers to include private and for-profit corporations; and provide expedited micro grants and loans to small businesses to help defer immediate costs.

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