Disaster relief and emergency assistance

Congress passed the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) in 1988 as a means to provide “orderly and continuing” federal support to state and local governments to relieve suffering and damage due to disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates the administration of the federal assistance to locations in need of relief and aid.

In addition to state and local governments, private, nonprofit colleges and universities are also eligible for FEMA assistance under the Stafford Act.


In 2006, Congress restored the eligibility of private, nonprofit colleges to receive FEMA assistance to permanently repair structures damaged during a natural disaster. NAICU, in conjunction with some of its member institutions located in states prone to serious weather-related crises, worked diligently on this legislation for two years.  The result is that college and university leaders are now able to access federal assistance allowing them to rebuild faster and maintain a continuity of services to continue serving their students and communities.

To be eligible for federal assistance under the Stafford Act, the following declarations and criteria must be met:

  • The governor must request a declaration of an emergency or a major disaster from the President.
  • The President must declare the state eligible.
  • Institutions wishing to receive federal emergency assistance must be in a location within the state that has been declared a federal disaster area.

There are two types of disaster declarations provided for in the Stafford Act: emergency declarations and major disaster declarations.  Both declaration types authorize the President to provide supplemental federal disaster assistance.  However, the events related to the two different types of declaration and scope and amount of assistance differ.

Emergency declarations make emergency protective measures eligible. Major declarations make permanent repair of certain structures eligible.  Once a state has met the criteria for aid and assistance under the Stafford Act, state officials will contact educational institutions to explain eligibility requirements.

What You Can Do 

If your institution suffers damages caused by storms or other natural disasters, you should:
  • Be certain you are keeping excellent records of your emergency protective measures, any repairs, and pictures of any damage.
  • Contact the state emergency management office to be certain it is aware of any damage to your institution and that you are receiving proper information regarding public assistance eligibility.


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