FEMA will no longer reimburse states for the cost of cloth face coverings at “nonemergency settings”
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have confirmed that the agency will end federal funding for cloth face masks in schools around the country. During a call between FEMA representatives and state officials obtained by NPR, the agency confirmed it will only fund masks if they were deemed necessary to stop a “direct emergency.”
Beginning September 15, FEMA’s new policy on personal protective equipment will no longer reimburse states for the cost of cloth face coverings for “non-emergency settings,” which includes schools, public housing, and courthouses. While the CDC has stringent guidelines in favor of face masks in schools, there is currently no federal face mask mandate in place.
“Supporting schools and other functions — courthouses and other related functions – are not a direct emergency protective measures and therefore they’re not eligible for [federal funding],” said Keith Turi, a FEMA official, according to NPR.
“There are costs that being incurred and required based on COVID, but they are all not necessarily emergency protective measures, and they’re not necessarily all FEMA-eligible,” said aid Keith Turi, a FEMA official, per NPR.
The policy appears to operate under the standard that masks are “necessary” for schools, and therefore do not fall under the category of “emergency equipment.” Though it could be argued that a pandemic is certainly an emergency — and that these face coverings, which are mandatory in most schools, are not a foreseen or typical school supply.
Many state officials were outraged by the new policy, and offered many theoretical (yet realistic) examples of when FEMA may or may not cover the cost of masks in schools. [NPR obtained a recording of the call from a government official responsible for emergency funding. The official is not authorized to speak to the media and could lose their job for sharing the recording.]
“Once an outbreak has occurred, then if we provide PPE that would be eligible, but not prior to?” one official asked. “Is that correct?”
Turi doubled down on FEMA’s new policy, stating that the face coverings are still not eligible, because they’re “not related to the operating of facilities.” The state official pressed further, reminding Turi that teachers have been identified by the federal government as “essential workers” now that schools have reopened. Turi again replied that the face masks are still not part of FEMA’s new “emergency protective measures.”
Another state official mentioned that the withdrawal of FEMA funding for masks in schools could lead to the further spread of the coronavirus.
“Two of the biggest things we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 are social distancing, which we’re having to learn to work around, so that we don’t have education loss, which can border on catastrophic. And the next thing they can do is wear a face mask,” the official said.
In addition to face coverings, FEMA will also stop paying for some disinfection costs unless they are considered an emergency protective measure, leaving states to absorb these costs in their individual budgets.