COVID-19 and the National Guard

As a result of the emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the federal government is providing various types of assistance to support states as they engage in response efforts, as well as mitigate some of the associated economic impacts to businesses, local communities, and individuals. In this post, we discuss the assistance the federal government is providing to states through the National Guard.

National Guard Plays Key Role in Meeting Various Critical State and National Needs. The National Guard includes soldiers and airmen (guardsmembers) that typically serve part time. However, the Governor or President can call on these guardsmembers to provide full-time assistance when domestic or international needs arise. For example, guardsmembers may assist with fighting wildland fires, counterdrug activities, and combat missions abroad. Typically, when the Governor calls guardsmembers, they are on state active duty. In these cases, the state is generally responsible for the costs of activating these personnel who work under the direction of the Governor. (In some cases, the federal government may reimburse the state for a portion of these costs, such as when the state receives a federal disaster declaration.) In contrast, when the President calls on guardsmembers, they are on federal active duty, and the federal government is responsible for the costs. In most cases, the President calls on guardsmembers under Title 10 of the U.S. Code. When this occurs, the guardsmembers work under the direction of the President.

National Guard Authorized Under Title 32 in Response to COVID-19. On March 22, 2020, President Trump authorized the National Guard in California to serve under Title 32 of the U.S. Code in order to support the state’s COVID-19 response efforts. (Other states have also received this authorization.) From the perspective of the state, this authorization means that the federal government will cover the full cost of eligible activities performed by the guardsmembers. We also note that unlike authorizations made under Title 10, guardsmembers serve under the direction of the Governor under Title 32—giving the state greater control over how the guardsmembers are employed.

Recent Federal Legislation Provided Additional Funding for National Guard Activities. On March 27, 2020, Congress passed and the President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748). Among other things, this legislation provides about $1.4 billion to support the National Guard’s response to COVID-19 nationwide. At the time this post was prepared, the Secretary of Defense authorized California to receive $48 million of this amount to support the equivalent of 3,000 soldiers for 30 days on Title 32 status for COVID-19 related activities. However, should the state begin to deplete this funding, it can request an increase from the federal government. Accordingly, the amount of resources that will ultimately be provided to California could increase in the future depending on the state’s needs.

National Guard Engaged in Various COVID-19 Activities, Which Could Expand. At the time this post was prepared, roughly 1,000 guardsmembers were engaged in the state’s COVID-19 response efforts—specifically for a few key tasks, such as distributing of food at foodbanks, providing COVID-19 testing support, and transporting patients to medical facilities. As the state’s COVID-19 response progresses, the state will likely increase the number of guardsmembers who are supporting the state’s efforts to respond to COVID-19 and may task guardsmembers with additional responsibilities to help ensure the health and safety of the public.

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