When President Donald Trump declared Maryland a major disaster area last week due to the coronavirus pandemic, state officials praised the decision.
That’s because it puts the state and local governments and area nonprofits in line to receive millions — or even tens of millions — in federal dollars as they quickly respond to the outbreak.
“This allows us to take every action necessary to protect the public without worrying about going outside the constraints of the budget,” said Chas Eby, deputy director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
The designation means the federal government will pick up the tab for Maryland’s emergency management costs and running local operation centers around the state during the response.
Bulk purchases of food, water and medicine also could be covered, Eby said. Nonprofits that provide food and shelter to people during the emergency could be reimbursed as well, he added.
Eby said it’s too early to even guess at the cost of the state’s coronavirus response, given the outbreak could last months. But he noted the president also signed an emergency declaration that lifts a typical cap of $5 million for reimbursements.
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“All disasters really start and end locally,” Eby said. “These funds can ensure we have as robust as response as possible.”
Declarations of major disaster areas are typically due to natural catastrophes, such as floods or earthquakes, but the president has wide discretion to make a declaration for a public health outbreak, as well.
Maryland’s last major disaster area declaration came in 2018 when the federal government awarded $13.4 million to help with deadly flooding in Howard County and related damage in Baltimore County. In 2016, the federal government awarded $7.5 million to help with another deadly Howard County flood.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has also asked Trump to reclassify the Maryland National Guard’s role in the state as a federal mission run by the state. If granted, that would mean the federal government would pay for the 2,200 members of the National Guard who are now on duty in Maryland.
Members of the guard are performing a wide array of functions in the state, including helping set up makeshift hospitals and delivering box lunches to people in need of a meal.
Trump has already approved the so-called Title 32 status for the guard in the states of California, New York and Washington, which have suffered some of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic.