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President Biden ordered FEMA to issue retroactive reimbursements to states for National Guard deployments and other costs brought on by the pandemic.
States will be able to collect millions more dollars from the federal government to offset coronavirus-related costs under a presidential order that revises reimbursement rates and expands the type of expenses eligible for the funding.
President Biden issued a memo this week providing further guidance on how the Federal Emergency Management Agency should retroactively reimburse states for the full cost of covid emergency expenses dating back to the start of the pandemic in January 2020. Biden had earlier increased the percentage that FEMA reimbursed states for deployment of the National Guard from from 75% to 100% of costs.
State and local leaders welcomed the move, noting the extra expenses their governments have incurred during the pandemic.
“States and local governments have shouldered the immense costs of this pandemic, hampering their abilities to provide critical services to those most in need,” said Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. “The Nevada National Guard continues to be an immensely important part of our state’s response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”
The governor said Nevada officials were still assessing how much money the state could be eligible to receive.
The Biden administration estimates that the reimbursements could cost the federal government between $3 billion and $5 billion. FEMA has already provided about $1.9 billion to states for expenses related to opening community vaccination centers.
In New Jersey, officials said the extra reimbursements could bring more than $300 million in federal funding to the state.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the increased FEMA reimbursement rates would allow the city to expand a program that has temporarily housed homeless seniors in hotel rooms during the pandemic.
Under Biden’s memo, FEMA will fully cover emergency pandemic costs dating back to January 2020, including National Guard deployments, the purchase of personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, the opening of shelters for at-risk populations and providing emergency food assistance.
The Biden administration has also expanded the type of pandemic-related expenses state and local governments can request to have reimbursed in the future. New expenses eligible for 100% federal reimbursement include costs for protective equipment and disinfecting services to support the safe opening and operation of schools, childcare facilities, healthcare facilities, homeless or domestic violence shelters and transit systems. These newly eligible costs can be reimbursed if they are incurred between Jan. 21 and Sept. 30 of this year.
The FEMA reimbursements provide a way for state and local governments to access more federal funding even as the Biden administration and Congress work out the details of another coronavirus aid package. Governors and local lawmakers have stressed the need for increased federal funding so that they can cover expenses related to their pandemic response efforts.
Congress and then-President Donald Trump approved $150 billion in direct aid for state and local governments in an initial covid-relief package last year but declined to provide additional funding in subsequent legislation.
The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid proposal would provide $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments.
Republicans proposed their own smaller aid package that did not include direct state and local funding. But Democrats have forged ahead to quickly pass Biden’s American Rescue Plan, and the president said Friday he does not intend to delay the bill in the hope of attracting more Republican support.
“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill... that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now,” Biden said during a press conference. “What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing or not enough.”
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.