Katrina-era FEMA director: Trump invoking Stafford Act was 'smart,' important

Michael Brown, who led the federal emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, says President Trump was "smart" to invoke the Stafford Act and Defense Production Act to help battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Brown said Saturday on "Cavuto Live" that the moves essentially let the Federal Emergency Management Agency take control of the physical disaster response -- covering the majority of costs for state and local emergency operations when necessary.

That allows the White House to focus on the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services and its coronavirus task force, he said.

Brown said the outbreak in the U.S. could continue longer than expected, but that by using the legislation to give FEMA control over a large segment of the response, the agency is free to do what it does best.

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"I think that's why the president was smart in turning to the Stafford Act and declaring a national emergency because that does two things: It takes the pressure off the White House, and it takes the pressure off HHS, so they can focus as subject-matter experts," he said.

"Then all of the coordination, all of the financial arrangements, everything else can now be done through FEMA, which is precisely what FEMA is good at."

Brown said that under the 1988 act, named for former Vermont Republican Sen. Robert Stafford, FEMA is able to access emergency funds and cover up to 75 percent of the costs of operating a regional emergency operations center, law enforcement and first responder overtime, a National Guard deployments and other virus-fighting efforts.

"I want to emphasize to people that it's just like a natural disaster, it's just that in this case it's nationwide and it happens to be a virus. That's the big difference," he said.

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Brown, who responded to Katrina in 2005 under President George W. Bush, also answered questions as to whether governors in affected states, like California's Gavin Newsom, Pennsylvania's Tom Wolf, New York's Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut's Ned Lamont, are allowed to issue shelter-in-place restrictions or commercial restrictions.

The Oklahoma native said that the statewide orders are subject to their own statutes and that they have the power to set the parameters of such policies. But the states also have the responsibility to inform FEMA of their decisions.

"The governors of each state have the power to do that under existing statutes and court rulings, so every governor makes that decision on their own," he said. "But when they're making that decision, they reach out to FEMA and they reach out to the White House coronavirus task force just so that everybody ... communicate[s] with each other."

He said that communication is important in case there is something FEMA needs to assist with.