After President Donald Trump suggested Thursday he may invoke a law known as the Stafford Act to declare the coronavirus pandemic an emergency, one expert said Friday that for Trump not to do so would be "beyond reckless and irresponsible."
"We have things that I can do, we have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act," 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."
The president is scheduled to make an address at 3pm Friday in which he may announce that measure to address the crisis.
But thus far Trump has been noncommittal about invoking the 1988 law, which would free up billions in relief funds, and downplayed the threat of the virus in the U.S., stating—to the contrary of health experts—that "we are in really good shape."
As Reuters reported,
[The Stafford Act] empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist state and local governments during “natural catastrophes” and coordinate the nation’s response.
FEMA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, controls more than $40 billion in federal funding set aside by Congress for disaster relief. FEMA could use that funding to help build medical facilities and transport patients, among other measures.
Politico reported Thursday that Trump "has been wary" of making such a declaration.
But according to disasterologist Dr. Samantha Montano, that inaction is simply "beyond reckless and irresponsible." She framed the action as "bare minimum, emergency management 101 stuff," that Trump could take.
Actually... “Is failing” is passive.— Dr. Samantha Montano (@SamLMontano) March 13, 2020
This is an active and deliberate choice that the president is making.
He says he understands this process (presumably someone sat him down to watch House of Cards at some point) so USE IT. pic.twitter.com/osv8o5bWxY
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Montano is far from alone in urging Trump to make the declaration to address the pandemic.
In a letter sent Thursday to coronavirus czar Vice President Mike Pence, the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American Nurses Association (ANA), and the American Medical Association (AMA) urged the Trump to "declare the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a disaster or emergency under the Stafford Act or the National Emergencies Act," which would help "ensure that healthcare services and sufficient healthcare items are available to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak."
The AHA, @AmerMedicalAssn and @ANANursingWorld today sent a joint letter to the Administration to ask for a presidential emergency or disaster declaration over the #coronavirus outbreak: Read the letter here: https://t.co/aeOShpBMjk pic.twitter.com/eJ1W74Q4gQ— American Hospital Association (@ahahospitals) March 12, 2020
"America's healthcare system must be there to help communities face an emergency from a natural disaster, a manmade disaster, or a virulent contagious disease," the heads of the medical groups wrote. "Our members are prepared to do our part to help patients and our communities. This requested action will provide the support we need in our collective mission to support the well-being, health, and safety of patients by allowing flexibility at a time when it is needed most."
Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have also urged the president to make the declaration.
On remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Markey said "Trump's mismanagement of this crisis" is "unconscionable."
"The president and his administration have undermined science and our scientists," he continued, and called for Trump to immediately invoke the Stafford Act to declare an emergency.
The calls for action come as health experts give a grim assessment of the national response to the novel coronavirus.
"Our response is much, much worse than almost any other country that's been affected," Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told NPR Thursday.
It's "mind-blowing," he said, adding, "And I don't understand it."