A Primer on Disaster and Emergency Appropriations

This issue brief from the Heritage Foundation explains three classifications of disaster and emergency spending including “regular appropriations,” “disaster designated appropriations,” and “emergency supplemental appropriations.” The paper argues that most events should be funded through regular appropriations. Additionally, Congress should establish higher thresholds for disasters so that funding is reserved for major events. This document does not directly address climate adaptation, but this resource is included in the Clearinghouse because disaster policy will be critical to the nation's ability to respond to climate change since climate will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and is likely to increase disaster costs.

Regular appropriations are defined as disaster funding that is authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Emergency Relief and Disaster Assistance Act, and are used after a Presidentially declared disaster event. These funds primarily sourced through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund. Recently, the number of declared disasters has risen sharply depleting the funds available in the Disaster Relief Fund.

When regular appropriations are depleted, Congress can increase the amount of funding available for disaster recovery up to the average funding level provided for disaster relief for the previous 10 years.  In FY 2016, the Department of Homeland Security received a $6.7 billion cap adjustment to be used for disaster spending.

In the case of catastrophic disasters, Congress can use supplemental appropriation bills to provide emergency funding. These bills are not subject to the regulations that govern the Disaster Relief Fund or FEMA.

Publication Date: March 2, 2016

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Justin Bogie

Related Organizations:

  • The Heritage Foundation


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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