Updated Sep 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

FEMA to stop funding for cloth face masks in schools

Students arrive at school before the first day for in-person teaching at St. John's Lutheran School in Orange, CA on Monday, August 24

Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials said Tuesday the agency is changing its policy on funding personal protective equipment, per a recording of a conference call obtained by NPR.

Why it matters: The new policy, effective Sept. 15., means that states will no longer be reimbursed for cloth face masks unless they're for emergency protective measures. This impacts schools, public housing, and courthouses, according to NPR.

Details: "Supporting schools and other functions ... are not a direct emergency protective measures and therefore they're not eligible for [Public Assistance]," said Keith Turi, FEMA assistant administrator for recovery, according to the recording.

  • In response to a state government official from the Midwest seeking clarification on PPE for teachers, Turi said that they "are not eligible because they are related to the operating of facilities."
"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."

Of note: "FEMA said it will still provide personal protective equipment, including cloth face masks, for medical care, some medical sheltering, mass casualty management and other settings," according to NPR.

  • The announcement comes as about half of school districts in the U.S. prepare return to school buildings in the fall. Per Axios' Kim Hart, most big-city school districts that serve large numbers of at-risk students will continue with remote learning for the foreseeable future.

The big picture: Under President Trump's national emergency declaration for the novel coronavirus, state and local authorities can apply to be refunded costs for measures taken to respond to the pandemic.

What they're saying: FEMA said in a statement to Axios that the agency released an interim policy to clarify eligible work under the Public Assistance program as part of Trump's March declaration.

  • "Reimbursement for the purchase and distribution of disinfecting supplies for schools is only eligible when being used in the performance of an eligible emergency protective measure," according to the statement.
  • "Normal operation of schools and other public facilities are not emergency protective measures, so FEMA would not provide funding for these activities in these circumstances."
  • It said states, territories and tribes could still seek federal assistance for these items via FEMA’s PA program, the Treasury's Coronavirus Relief Fund and schools funding administered by the Education Department.
Go deeper