President Trump is expected to declare a national emergency at a news conference on Friday afternoon, a move that would give him authority to use $40 billion of funds allocated by Congress for disaster relief to address the coronavirus crisis.
Mr. Trump, according to a senior administration official, is expected to invoke the Stafford Act, a law that empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist state and local governments during “natural catastrophes” and coordinate the nation’s response.
Mr. Trump has been hinting in recent days that he had been briefed on using the law to address the pandemic, and Democratic lawmakers like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, have been pressing him to invoke it.
Mr. Trump’s decision to employ the Stafford Act to address the coronavirus crisis was reported earlier by Poidu News.
“We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday. “I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”
Still, the details of Mr. Trump’s announcement, another official cautioned, were in flux and being finalized ahead of a 3 p.m. news conference that Mr. Trump announced on Twitter Friday morning.
Presidents frequently invoke the Stafford Act in response to natural disasters, like the recent tornado that killed two dozen people in Tennessee.
But it is usually applied to specific states or geographic areas, not nationally, and has not often been used in the case of major public health crises. And the power it would afford the president depends on what kind of emergency he declares. The act specifies two levels — a major disaster declaration or an emergency declaration.
The first is more sweeping and would authorize spending for purposes including unemployment assistance, emergency grants to seasonal workers, food coupons, relocation assistance. But a major disaster is defined very specifically under the law to be something like a hurricane, tornado, landslide or earthquake. A pandemic is not listed, so whether it would qualify is not clear.
The second category, an emergency declaration, is more broadly defined and would cover a major public health risk like the coronavirus; President Bill Clinton declared such an emergency under the Stafford Act in 2000 in response to the West Nile virus in New York and New Jersey.
But it provides less authority to the president, who would not, for instance, be able to use it for the unemployment assistance, emergency grants and other forms of aid that a major disaster would free up.