CONGRESSWOMAN HAYES LED LETTER TO THE FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY QUESTIONING GUIDANCE ON THE DISTRIBUTION OF COVID-19 RELATED EXPENSES

November 23, 2020
Press Release

Today, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05) led a letter signed by 66 of her colleagues, to Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter T. Gaynor requesting further information and action regarding the definition of reimbursable COVID-19 expenses under the Stafford Act. 

“During such a dire time, it is critical we offer aid to state and local governments as they seek to implement measures to combat and prevent the spread of COVID-19. This letter seeks to gain additional information on how FEMA can provide proper guidance around eligibility for assistance,” said Congresswoman Hayes.

“Local disaster and public health officials in Connecticut and throughout the country need help to address the varied of issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially at a time when their resources are thinly stretched. I have requested that FEMA issue new clarifying guidance broadening what is considered an emergency protective measure, revert to the previous definition of a public facility, and work with Congress, HHS and the CDC to centralize the reimbursement process. These important changes will provide state and local governments with the support they need to serve their communities.” 

Text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Administrator Gaynor,

We write to you with concerns regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) guidance on the process by which COVID-19 related expenses are deemed eligible for reimbursement under the Stafford Act and 44 CFR, the implementing regulation for the Stafford Act.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have had many conversations with FEMA and our local municipalities. In all these discussions, there has been a common sentiment regarding FEMA reimbursement for COVID related expenses. When COVID struck our nation, municipalities and local executives took immediate action and quickly began to work to combat the virus and prevent the spread. Municipalities installed necessary safety infrastructure and purchased emergency supplies, such as masks, plexiglass partitions, gloves and disinfectants. Cities and towns scheduled additional maintenance shifts for increased sanitizing and disinfecting at municipal buildings for essential workers. These costs & purchases were necessary in the fight against and prevention of contracting COVID and were consistent with the guidance issued in March 2020 by FEMA.

Unfortunately, after an administrative change at FEMA and subsequent guidance on September 1, 2020, many of these expenses were deemed ineligible for reimbursement, effective September 15, 2020. This change has left communities in our districts with mounting financial shortfalls, because they were following previous guidance disseminated by FEMA.

In speaking with local disaster and public health officials, there is also concern regarding the definition of an “emergency protective measure” and the newly restricted definition of a “public facility.” These new and restrictive definitions have unilaterally disqualified many purchases from eligibility and have severely hampered the ability of local leaders to make the necessary investments to best fight this pandemic. These officials note past precedent in interpreting regulation 44 CFR of the Stafford Act for prior major disaster declarations has never been this restrictive.

During conversations with local governments, they also noted that the lack of centralization during the reimbursement process has led to confusion and frustration. In addition to FEMA, agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can assist municipalities with the cost associated with COVID preparation and response. While this additional avenue for assistance is appreciated, the decentralized nature of this situation is not the most efficient solution.

With these issues in mind, we request that FEMA look to make the following improvements:

  1. Issue new clarifying guidance broadening what is considered an “emergency protective measure,” allowing for all pandemic prevention costs incurred before September 15, 2020 to be reimbursable, as well as reverting back to the previous definition of a “public facility”; and
  2. Work with Congress, HHS and CDC to centralize the reimbursement process.

We appreciate your attention to this important and urgent matter and look forward to your prompt response.

###

Rep. Jahana Hayes has been a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year.

Currently serving her first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District.