Sandy act clarifies disaster aid process for tribes

As a result of President Barack Obama signing the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act last week, to help victims of Hurricane Sandy, federally recognized Indian tribes will now be able to directly petition the president for disaster aid.

Part of the legislation amends the 1988 Stafford Act, which outlines a mechanism for responding to disasters and providing federal relief.

The overall amendment is directed at relief for Hurricane Sandy victims, but the provision regarding tribal relief will help alleviate inconsistencies in current programs, said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

“A very memorable example of such an inconsistency for our tribe took place after the severe storm of December, 2007,” said Sharp. “The Quinault Reservation experienced an eight-day power and water outage. Because we didn’t have authority to declare a natural disaster, services on our reservation were offered inconsistently. Citizens in Queets, which is in Jefferson County, were treated differently than our citizens in Taholah and Amanda Park, in Grays Harbor County. One was declared a disaster, but not the other.”

Now tribes will have the option to going directly to the president to request emergency relief, rather than going to the governors of states where the emergency takes place. They retain the option of applying through the state. “This is a good example of the reason we invest time in Washington, D.C.,” said Sharp. “It is important to our people and our sovereignty as an Indian nation to strengthen our trust relationship with the federal government,” she said.

“FEMA has strong, long-standing relationships with tribal governments, and they are essential members of the emergency management team,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. “… This amendment to the Stafford Act follows on the President’s commitments to Indian Country, strengthens the government-to-government relationship between FEMA and federally recognized tribes, and will enhance the way FEMA supports tribal communities before, during, and after disasters.”

Fugate added that fully implementing the provision will require consultation with tribes and other stakeholders, particularly as FEMA develops the administrative and programmatic requirements and procedures necessary to execute the law.