Budget & Finance

FEMA Will Cover Some COVID-19 Staffing Costs for Schools

By Mark Lieberman — April 19, 2021 3 min read
West Jefferson High School seniors get their temperature checked before entering the Harvey, La., school as students return for in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic on Aug. 31, 2020.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Schools during the pandemic have been pouring unprecedented sums of money into cleaning and disinfecting buildings; scanning temperatures and screening for infection; and purchasing and distributing masks and personal protective equipment to keep adults and children safe.

Now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is offering to fully reimburse the costs of those efforts—not just the equipment and tools involved, but overtime pay for the employees doing that work, a FEMA spokesperson said.

Some estimates suggest schools will spend $25 billion total on protecting against COVID-19 in school buildings. FEMA’s Public Assistance Program has been offering school districts funds for responding to COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.

But the rules have shifted several times, leaving districts confused and disappointed. Some don’t have the resources to embark on the application process for the funds. Others aren’t even aware that FEMA aid is an option.

Among districts that have applied for funds, some have received a small amount. Others have been in the dark about why the agency hasn’t approved their requests for millions of dollars. Three federal stimulus packages have helped cover some costs, but the more money districts get reimbursed for during this crisis, the more they can devote to programs and initiatives that help students, administrators say.

FEMA under President Joe Biden’s administration has committed to fully reimbursing many pandemic-related costs for schools, provided that the money was spent on work performed after Biden took office, between Jan. 21 and Sept. 30 of this year.

In an email to Education Week, a spokesperson for the agency confirmed “overtime for budgeted employees and straight-time and overtime for unbudgeted employees” for work performed after Jan. 21 of this year counts as an eligible expense, if the employees were working in accordance with the agency’s current reimbursement policy. Overtime pay for work performed last year is not eligible, per the FEMA policy.

The spokesperson also clarified some confusion over the timeline of eligible work. Education Week presented FEMA with a hypothetical scenario: A school district bought masks in September but continues to use them in school buildings to this day. Is the district eligible to get the cost of those masks reimbursed?

Yes, the spokesperson said, but with a catch: The amount of reimbursement will be “based on the evaluation of the fair market value of the used supplies” after Jan. 21, the spokesperson said. Even though the purchase happened before eligibility began, reimbursement will be based on when the items were in use during the eligibility period.

How to apply for FEMA relief

The FEMA spokesperson encouraged administrators to go to grantee.fema.gov, and click “Register Your Organization for Public Assistance” at the bottom of the screen if the district doesn’t already have an account login.

School districts can contact emergency management offices in their town, county, or state for help navigating the FEMA program’s requirements.

Applicants for reimbursement will be required to share rigorously documented evidence of the costs for their requests. FEMA has not specified how quickly reimbursement funds will become available, though it has said that there is currently no deadline for requesting reimbursement.

Schools should not be discouraged by the availability of other sources of federal and state funding assistance. FEMA’s policy explicitly states that the agency may offer funds to school districts even if the district could have received federal funding for that request from another source.

That offering does come with limitations, though. The policy says FEMA won’t cover costs associated with COVID-19 contact tracing, for instance.

Do you have more questions about FEMA reimbursement for your school or district? Email Mark Lieberman at mlieberman@educationweek.org, and he’ll try to help you find the answers.

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 2021 edition of Education Week as FEMA Reverses Course, Says It Will Reimburse Schools for Some COVID-19 Costs


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Budget & Finance Why Failing to Require Masks Could Cost Districts Millions Later
Some insurance providers are threatening to cancel districts' coverage this school year—particularly if they break statewide mask mandates.
9 min read
Image of a dial that assesses problems, dangers, risks, and liabilities.
iStock/Getty
Budget & Finance Will Teachers Get Vaccinated for $1,000?
More and more districts are offering cash to employees who get vaccinated, hoping that the money will help tamp down COVID-19 spread.
6 min read
Image of a dollar bill folded into an upward arrow.
ImagePixel/iStock/Getty
Budget & Finance Opinion Three Tips for Spending COVID-19 Funds in Evidence-Based Ways
If COVID-19 funds targeted for evidence-based practices are going to deliver, it's crucial to be clear on what evidence is actually helpful.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Budget & Finance How Kids Benefit When Principals Get a Say in Spending Federal COVID-19 Aid
In some districts, principals play a key role in targeting federal pandemic relief money, but in other places they're left out.
8 min read
Nicole Moore, the principal at Indian Mills School, stands near the summer literacy program held in a small lot at Fawn Lake Village in Shamong, New Jersey on July 6, 2021. Moore worked with teachers to develop a summer literacy program for disadvantaged students who live in the district.
Nicole Moore, principal of Indian Mills School, in Shamong, N.J., worked with a teacher and the district superintendent to start a summer program using federal aid for COVID-19 relief.
Eric Sucar for Education Week