WASHINGTON (TNS) — President Donald Trump has declared New York a major disaster area due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that opens the door to billions of dollars in federal aid to help the state fight the virus.
It’s the first time in U.S. history that a president has declared a major disaster over a public health threat. Such aid is usually reserved for natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.
Trump’s unprecedented declaration, requested by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, will set in motion a sweeping series of federal initiatives to help New York – the state with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the nation. The number of cases increased by more than 2,000 between Thursday and Friday, bringing the total to 7,102 with 38 deaths.
U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said they were informed of Trump’s approval of the disaster declaration Friday night.
The move allows the federal government to pay up to 75 percent of New York’s costs for its emergency response to the pandemic.
Under the disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be authorized to send its personnel and resources to New York. FEMA can help set up mobile coronavirus testing centers, disinfect public facilities, and provide the state with medical supplies that are in high demand such as face masks, gloves and surgical gowns.
As part of his request, Cuomo asked the federal government to provide temporary shelter assistance to New Yorkers hurt by the economic fallout in the state, and to provide additional food aid through the disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
Cuomo also wants the federal government to pay benefits to New Yorkers who lost their jobs because of coronavirus, but don’t qualify for traditional unemployment payments because they are self-employed or used up their benefits.
New York’s two U.S. senators and 14 of the state’s House members had urged Trump to sign the declaration this week.
The House members, led by Reps. John Katko, R-Camillus, and Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, also asked Trump to waive the requirement that states pay 25 percent of the disaster bill.
Schumer and Gillibrand separately asked Trump to waive FEMA’s requirement for a preliminary damage assessment before it sends resources to a state.
The president’s “major disaster declaration” for New York will allow the federal government to immediately begin using some of the $42.6 billion set aside for disaster assistance.
Before signing the disaster declaration, Trump on Wednesday ordered the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort to New York City. The ship has 1,000 hospital beds that can be used to help relieve pressure on the city’s hospitals.