Relief may soon be on the way for state and school officials concerned about a lack of federal assistance in obtaining facial coverings.
As first reported by NPR on Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced during a recent phone call with state and tribal government emergency management officials that it would no longer provide public assistance after Sept. 15 to school districts needing cloth face masks for students or staff because schools do not meet the criteria of providing emergency services.
School Transportation News contacted FEMA for more information on the new policy. A spokesperson said FEMA’s public assistance program provides emergency protective measures to states, territories, tribal and local governments as well certain types of nonprofit organizations to help communities quickly respond to a crisis. Eligible applicants receive this assistance through reimbursement of eligible work and costs.
“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,” the spokesperson explained. “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.”
During a press call on Thursday, Keith Turi, the assistant administrator for recovery at FEMA, said over $2 billion has also been spent so far on food delivery during the COVID-19 crisis. He told School Transportation News that the ability for schools to continue receiving funds for the delivery of food to students via school buses would depend on the specifics of the operation.
However, regarding face masks, the U.S. Department of Health and Services is providing up to 125 million reusable cloth coverings free of charge to states for distribution to schools.
“These masks will be allocated to the share of students from low-income families in each state or territory,” an HHS spokesperson explained, adding that the cloth masks will be distributed in two shipments, starting early this month.
Teachers and school staff are also eligible to receive masks sent by HHS, with the first delivery also scheduled for early this month. The HHS spokesperson on Thursday confirmed to STN that these masks would be a part of the 125-million shipment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended last month that all teachers, school employees and students wear cloth masks in public settings “as able” when interacting with people who they don’t reside with. Exceptions should be made for children younger than 2 years old, people who have respiratory issues, and anyone who is “incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face-covering without assistance.”
Related: South Carolina Requires Mask Use in Public School Facilities
Related: Alabama Governor Orders Most Students to Wear Masks
Related: (STN Podcast E13) – Adapting to COVID-19: Students Wearing Masks & Physically Distancing on the Bus?