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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 23, 2009

Federal Disaster Relief in the U.S.: The Role of Political Partisanship and Preference in Presidential Disaster Declarations and Turndowns

Richard S Salkowe and Jayajit Chakraborty

Federal disaster declarations are authorized by the president under the provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (the Stafford Act). Previous studies pertaining to presidential disaster declarations have found varying levels of political influence associated with the declaration process. Factors including electoral votes, reelection years, congressional committee appointments, geographic location, and party favoritism have been implicated in the selective approval capacity that is designated to the president in issuing federal disaster declarations.This article aims to provide a comparative analysis of emergency and major disaster declaration requests under the Stafford Act from 1989-2005 with attention directed towards political partisanship, biased vote-seeking, and the potential for a state to be overwhelmed by a disaster event. Our study reveals a higher success rate in acquiring major disaster declarations for states with lower total taxable resources and during presidential reelection years. The same findings were not evident in the analysis of emergency disaster declarations where statistically significant observations were limited to events in which recent multiple disasters had occurred and/or senatorial and presidential party similarity existed. There was no statistical evidence to suggest that gubernatorial and presidential party similarity, U.S. House of Representatives and presidential party similarity, FEMA congressional oversight committee membership, electoral votes, or FEMA regional office location influenced success in securing emergency or major disaster declarations. Several aspects of our results differ from prior studies and provide new findings regarding the role of political influence in the disaster declaration process.

Published Online: 2009-4-23

©2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston

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