August 12, 2020

Hirono, Leahy, Colleagues Demand White House Sustain Full Funding for National Guard COVID-19 Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) joined a letter led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and signed by 32 of their colleagues calling for President Trump to restore full federal funding in states where the National Guard has been deployed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Without explanation, last week President Trump slashed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement for National Guard operations from full funding to 75 percent for all states except Texas and Florida. Later, on August 7, President Trump directed the federal government to cover all the costs for National Guard units in Arizona, California, and Connecticut through September 30. National Guard units have collaborated with state and local officials to assist with testing, food distribution, and other urgent community health needs. States and territories will now have to pay for National Guard operations up front before requesting a lower reimbursement rate. This shift in reimbursement rates forces states to pay more for emergency services at a time when they are facing significant budget shortfalls.

In Hawaii, the National Guard has increased the state’s capacity to meet the public health emergency brought on by this pandemic. The National Guard has performed temperature checks and symptom screenings on thousands of airport passengers, assisted with various medical projects like transporting beds and masks, supported the Department of Health with swabbing tests on Oahu, Hawaii Island, and Maui, and helped with traffic and security during food drive and distribution efforts on Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island, among other missions.

“We write to request you restore one hundred percent Federal cost share to all states and territories for use of the National Guard under Title 32 of U.S. Code for responding to coronavirus, which was terminated by your August 3 memorandum for all states and territories except Florida and Texas. The National Guard response has been critical within our states to supporting the health and well-being of millions of Americans,” the Senators wrote. 

The Senators continued, “This new determination to reduce the cost share comes at the worst possible time, as positive cases continue to rise, and food security and other basic needs increase due to the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Further, by singling out Florida and Texas for a full cost share as other states face challenges of similar magnitude, the decision appears arbitrary and without justification.”

In addition to Senators Hirono and Leahy, the letter was also signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Senator Hirono has advocated for supporting the National Guard’s unique role in responding to the pandemic. She cosponsored the National Guard COVID-19 Response Stability Act, which would extend the Title 32 authority so that all troops activated to respond to the pandemic would be paid entirely by the federal government until 30 days after the end of the public health emergency. She also has sent several letters urging President Trump to extend Title 32 authority so that the Hawaii National Guard may continue to help the state respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including an August 1 letter from the Hawaii Congressional delegation.

The letter can be found here and below:

Dear Mr. President: 

We write to request you restore one hundred percent Federal cost share to all states and territories for use of the National Guard under Title 32 of U.S. Code for responding to coronavirus, which was terminated by your August 3 memorandum for all states and territories except Florida and Texas. The National Guard response has been critical within our states to supporting the health and well-being of millions of Americans.

Congress has demonstrated repeatedly that we understand 32 USC 502(f) to include the ability for the National Guard, under command of state and territory governors, to respond with Federal resources to disasters that endanger Americans. Most recently, the CARES Act included funding specifically for COVID-19 response for the Army and Air National Guards, as requested by the Department of Defense. You determined to use reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at one hundred percent cost share, and the resulting mission has lessened the negative impacts for Americans.

This new determination to reduce the cost share comes at the worst possible time, as positive cases continue to rise, and food security and other basic needs increase due to the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Further, by singling out Florida and Texas for a full cost share as other states face challenges of similar magnitude, the decision appears arbitrary and without justification. Exacerbating the arbitrary and capricious decision, the White House on August 7 extended a short term restoration for some states to a one hundred percent cost share through September 30. This inequity among states is irrational.

We ask that you re-authorize one hundred percent cost share for all states and territories through at least December 31.

###