MLive: Michigan senator asks FEMA to help school districts buy masks, cover costs related to reopening

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is pressing FEMA to provide school districts reopening this fall with emergency pandemic funding.

Peters, who serves as the ranking member on a committee that supervises FEMA, sent a letter to Administrator Peter Gaynor Monday urging him to open a federal disaster relief fund for schools. The funding could be used to cover costs related to training, reconfiguring classrooms and providing masks and other personal protective equipment, Peters wrote.

Meanwhile, schools across the country are facing budget cuts due to a lack of tax revenue lost during state-mandated shutdowns.

Federal funds will cover some of the extra cost associated with reopening during a pandemic. The Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined a budget plan that would cut K-12 funding by $256 million, offset by an extra $512 million in federal support and $53 million in hazard pay for teachers.

Peters also asked FEMA to work with the U.S. Departments of Education and Treasury to issue clear guidance on what school expenses can be reimbursed. Peters said this would help prevent duplication of effort from other emergency funds.

“Schools across the country currently face an unsustainable situation – drastic increases in costs to implement protective measures against COVID-19, paired with expected reductions in financial support from state and local governments,” Peters said in the letter.

Congress is also expected to include emergency funding for K-12 schools in the next coronavirus relief package. The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have yet to strike a deal.

Peters said FEMA has the ability to reimburse schools thanks to President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration. Peters said the declaration allows FEMA to reimburse state and local governments working to reduce the COVID-19 health threat.

“I think when you look at the funding that’s been provided by Congress to schools it’s pretty significant, and I think there is enough money out there that governors and mayors can use that money ... before they come to FEMA,” Gaynor said. “It doesn’t exactly fit into our authority.”

Peters disagreed in the Monday letter.

“We are all in agreement that our students deserve to have access to a safe, quality education this fall, even in the midst of a global pandemic,” Peters wrote. “FEMA has the opportunity and the duty to play a role in supporting our nation’s schools in this effort.”

By:  Malachi Barrett
Source: MLive