Publication Date



[Excerpt] The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq., henceforth the Stafford Act) confers upon the President a broad set of authorities “to alleviate the suffering and damage” of affected tribal, state, and local governments, as well as individual citizens, from disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been given the responsibility of administering almost all of the President’s Stafford Act authorities through other law, a series of Executive Orders, and a DHS delegation. FEMA has established the Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program by combining the authority of multiple sections of the Stafford Act. The PA Program provides financial grant assistance to states, tribes, and local communities both in the response to and recovery from significant disasters. Between FY2000-FY2013, the PA Program has provided $52.6 billion in grant assistance to help communities pay for an array of eligible response and recovery activities, including debris removal, emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged, publicly owned facilities and the facilities of certain private nonprofit (PNP) organizations. The authorities of the PA Program were most recently significantly amended by the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act (Division B of P.L. 113- 2, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013; henceforth SRIA). For a brief legislative history of PA Program authorities, see Appendix A.

This report provides background on key elements of the PA Program, such as the eligibility of applicants, the types of assistance available, and the methods FEMA uses for awarding grant assistance. Summary analysis of federal obligations for PA Program assistance is also provided along important variables, such as the distribution of federal obligations across the PA Program eligible categories of work assistance. The report concludes with discussion of several policy issues that Congress may wish to consider when evaluating the PA Program in the future, including considerations of significant prospective changes to the PA Program and the role of the PA Program in the context of other federal agency disaster assistance authorities.


Suggested Citation
Brown, J. T., & Richardson, D. J. (2015). FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program: Background and considerations for Congress. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.