School districts will have to meet stricter criteria this year to qualify for federal funds to support asbestos-control projects, according to officials of the Environmental Protection Agency.
With limited funds to distribute—$45 million in fiscal 1986—the E.P.A. will restrict grants and loans “to school districts with serious asbestos hazards and severe financial need,” said Susan F. Vogt, director of the agency’s asbestos-action program, in a recent letter to 45,000 public- and private-school administrators.
She stressed that school officials should consider their chances of qualifying before taking the time to apply for assistance.
Applications should be filed with designated state agencies by April 11 and must be received at the E.P.A. by April 25. Awards are scheduled to be announced on July 31.
Ms. Vogt said virtually all public and private schools should have received application forms by now. School officials who still need forms can request them by calling a toll-free E.P.A. number, (800) 835-6700.
“Only where there are visibly I damaged hazards will we consider an award,” said Lawrence Culleen, an E.P.A. attorney, at a briefing on the program last week. The agency plans to send inspectors to verify the severity of the hazard, as well as the number of hours students and school employees are exposed to the cancer-causing asbestos fibers.
After compiling a national ranking of the most serious hazards, the E.P.A. will attempt to target the neediest districts for aid. In a further change, the most affluent 30 percent of applicants will be disqualified.
For public schools, this calculation will probably be based on the district’s median personal income in the 1980 census, according to Michael Stahl of the agency’s school-assistance staff. Those with per-capita incomes above $7,060 (in 1980 dollars) would be ineligible.
For private schools, the top 30 percent of applicants would be determined on the basis of annual expenditures per pupil; last year, the cutoff would have been $1,626, he said.
The least affluent schools that qualify will receive grants of up to 50 percent of project costs-the maximum allowed by law. Loans may be repaid, without interest, over a 20-year period.
In other important changes this year, Mr. Stahl said, ''we will be taking a harder line on rejecting incomplete applications.” In addition, projects must be conducted by contractors certified under state programs or by the E.P.A., which has recently established five training sites around the country.
In 1985, the first year federal financial aid was available for asbestos abatement, 1,107 school districts submitted applications and 198 were offered awards for 417 projects in 340 schools. Twenty-four applicants rejected their awards, generally because of objections to debt-repayment provisions.
Of the available funding, $33 million was approved for loans and $12 million for grants.
Two years ago, Congress authorized $500 million in aid to schools facing asbestos-cleanup costs. But the Reagan Administration has opposed funding the program and has requested no appropriation in its 1987 budget.
Despite these objections, however, lawmakers have appropriated a total of $90 million for 1985 and 1986 and are seen as likely to continue the program next year.
Ms. Vogt said that the Administration believes that asbestos repairs are the responsibility of state and local governments and that the prospect of receiving federal funds may encourage school districts to delay corrective action.
“Asbestos in bad condition needs to be addressed right away,” she said.
The E.P.A. official noted, however, that delays by the Congress and the Office of Management and Budget in approving this year’s program make it unlikely that districts will be ready to spend their grants and loans until the summer of 1987.
Representative James J. Florio of New Jersey, a Democrat who is a harsh critic of the Administration’s stance on school asbestos-abatement projects, noted that in his home state alone, an estimated $76 million will be needed to control known asbestos hazards.
A version of this article appeared in the March 12, 1986 edition of Education Week