FEMA preparing for Trump emergency declaration on coronavirus: report

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is preparing for President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE to potentially make an emergency declaration regarding the coronavirus outbreak, NBC News reported Monday.

The agency is readying itself in case Trump makes an “infectious disease emergency declaration,” which would allow states and local governments to receive disaster relief funding and federal assistance to combat the virus, according to internal planning documents obtained by NBC.  

The declaration would allow FEMA to distribute this funding under the 1988 Stafford Act, which is more often used to provide money for natural disaster relief but can also be used for diseases. The Stafford Act was also used to help fund the fight against the West Nile virus in New York and New Jersey in 2000.

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"To me this is another indication that the president and the White House are finally aware of the gravity of the situation," Michael Coen, who was FEMA chief of staff during the Obama administration, told NBC News. 

The funding would authorize FEMA to provide support such as disaster medical assistance teams, mobile hospitals and military transport. Currently, the agency’s disaster relief fund has $34 billion, according to a Jan. 31 report, which a former FEMA official told NBC News is “sitting there and ready.” 

But an emergency declaration would differ from a “major disaster” declaration, which is wider reaching and usually used for major natural disasters. 

A FEMA spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that the agency is working on supporting the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which declared a separate “public health emergency” on Jan. 31.

“At this time, FEMA is not preparing an emergency declaration in addition to the HHS public health emergency," the statement said.

"Consistent with its mission, FEMA has been promoting preparedness activities and is currently a supporting agency to HHS," the statement continued.

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Concern over the coronavirus is increasing as two deaths were reported in Washington state this weekend, the first two in the U.S. The U.S. has confirmed 86 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers say the coronavirus could have been spreading undetected in the country for weeks

Updated at 3:07 p.m.