DEFINITION of 'Disaster Relief Act'

A United States federal law passed in 1974 that laid down the process through which the president's declaration of a disaster triggers a system of financial and other assistance by the federal government to state and local governments. It was amended in 1988 by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which activates federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

BREAKING DOWN 'Disaster Relief Act'

Disasters often cause loss of life and property, loss of income and human suffering; they also disrupt the normal functioning of governments and communities. The Disaster Relief Act provided an orderly and continuing means of assistance by the federal government to state and local governments, which enables them to fulfill their responsibilities to alleviate the suffering and damage caused by disasters such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes.

It should be noted that activation of disaster relief is not restricted only to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and other major disasters. It may also be triggered in the event of any emergency, as determined by the U.S. president, in which federal assistance is needed to supplement state and local governments to save lives and protect property, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the U.S.

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