Surrounded by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference on COVID-19. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Trump declares national emergency over COVID-19

Janet Nguyen Mar 13, 2020
Surrounded by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference on COVID-19. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to COVID-19 during a press conference Friday, using the Stafford Act, and announced that up to $50 billion would be available in federal funds.

In his address, Trump also said he would waive interest on student loans and that the United States would buy “large quantities of oil” to fill the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is able to provide disaster relief funding and federal assistance to states and local governments. FEMA has more than $40 billion in federal funding available for disaster relief.

Congress and the White House have also signed off on $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the virus.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. There are now more than 137,500 cases worldwide and more than 5,000 deaths. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 1,600 confirmed cases and 41 deaths.


Trump has invoked the Stafford Act in the past, declaring emergencies in response to wildfires in California, and storms and hurricanes in areas like Louisiana and Georgia.

When it comes to previous virus outbreaks, President Bill Clinton had declared a state of emergency in response to the West Nile virus in New York and New Jersey in 2000.

Between 1953 and 2014, an average of 35.5 major disaster declarations were issued by presidents under the Stafford Act and its predecessor, the Disaster Relief Acts, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Only presidents can declare a disaster under the act. Before 1950, state and local governments had to wait for authorization from Congress, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.  

Use of the Stafford Act has drawn criticism, with some saying that presidents are more likely to issue declarations during a presidential election year (and the year prior), according to the CRS report.

But the report says that while the data does indicate a “slight increase in the number of major disaster declarations” during presidential election years, they found “there are more nonelection years in the sample than election years, which may skew the results.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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