FEMA to Stop Paying for Cloth Face Masks for Schools, But Says New Government Program Will Provide 125 Million Masks
FEMA announced this week that it will longer pay for some PPE products for schools, including cloth face masks. However, the agency said a new government program aims to make up the difference.
During a call on Tuesday with state and tribal emergency managers, FEMA assistant administrator for recovery Keith Turi said that it will not reimburse states for the cost of cloth face masks or other PPE in non-emergency settings, like schools, public housing and courthouses. This change is effective Sept. 15.
“Supporting schools and other functions—courthouses and other related functions—are not a direct emergency protective measure and therefore they’re not eligible for [public assistance],” Turi said on the call obtained by NPR.
The move raised some concerns:
NH schools will receive 230,000 cloth face masks to keep teachers & students safe. Schools need all the help they can get. That's why it’s so disappointing that FEMA will no longer be reimbursing states’ purchases of PPE for schools. Makes no sense & should be reversed!
— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) September 2, 2020
In many cases, when schools have reopened, new coronavirus cases have followed. It’s happened on every level from elementary school to universities. Government officials on the call asked whether an outbreak would qualify a school to be an emergency deemed fit for FEMA supplies.
Here’s NPR’s transcription of the call:
"Once an outbreak has occurred, then if we provide PPE that would be eligible, but not prior to?" the official asked. "Is that correct?"
Turi replied that cloth face coverings or protective gear for teachers and schools "are not eligible because they are related to the operating of the facility."
"Even though teachers that on Aug. 18 were identified by [the federal government] to be essential workers?" the state official asked.
"There are costs that are being incurred and required based on COVID, but they are not necessarily all emergency protective measures, and they're not necessarily all FEMA-eligible," Turi replied.
Turi reportedly said during the call that federal assistance is being made available through other means, such as a Department of Health and Human Services program that will distribute up to 125 million face masks in schools. As of 2018, the U.S. had roughly 50 million public school students and 3.3 million public school staff.
The masks will be allocated based on each state's share of low-income students, with half of the masks in adult sizes and half in youth sizes, per the Department of Health's website. It's unclear how the masks will be sourced.
The change could impact promotional products businesses, potentially reducing branded or unbranded PPE orders from school districts that might now receive masks from a centralized government program but are too cash-strapped to order additional masks on their own, if necessary.