Feds won't reimburse California $300 million for homeless housing amid COVID. Congress wants answers

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WASHINGTON — 

California cities and counties mightiness beryllium connected nan hook for much than $300 cardinal they spent placing thousands of bum residents successful hotels successful nan midst of nan COVID-19 pandemic.

At nan time, section officials made nan unprecedented move nether nan belief that nan national authorities would reimburse overmuch of their costs for offering shelter, without clip limits, to unhoused group astatine elevated consequence of terrible symptoms. But nan Federal Emergency Management Agency says that they were mistaken and that nan agency had only agreed to salary for edifice stays of up to 20 days.

Now, concerned members of nan California delegation want answers. A Monday missive by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach), signed by 34 different Democratic members and 1 Republican — Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), asks FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to reconsider and reimburse cities that are already strapped for cash.

“We’re talking astir nan azygous largest nonaccomplishment of life arena that we’ve had to spell done successful complete a generation,” Garcia said. “This thought that we’re not going to, successful this monolithic emergency, afloat reimburse cities and counties for lodging folks ... is crazy. FEMA has a work to hole this problem.”

Los Angeles stands to suffer retired connected $60 cardinal spent from its wide fund, astir a 3rd of nan $194 cardinal submitted to FEMA for reimbursement. The metropolis already faces hiring limits owed to a fund shortfall.

“Every dollar would thief america capable immoderate of those vacancies,” said adjunct metropolis administrative serviceman Ben Ceja.

The rumor stems from a missive sent Oct. 16 from FEMA Regional Administrator Robert Fenton to Nancy Ward, nan head of California’s Office of Emergency Services.

Gov. Gavin Newsom terminated California’s statewide pandemic stay-at-home bid June 11, 2021, astatine which constituent much than 70% of adults had received astatine slightest 1 vaccine dose.

Fenton told California officials that FEMA would limit reimbursements during nan 2 years aft nan bid was lifted to edifice stays of up to 20 days. That’s “in accordance pinch nan [Centers for Disease Control’s] recommended isolation and quarantine period,” he wrote.

Emergency edifice placements were offered to group who had been exposed to aliases tested affirmative for COVID-19 and had obscurity to isolate, and those who were considered precocious risk, specified arsenic group complete 65 aliases pinch underlying wellness conditions. Unhoused group successful encampments and congregate shelters broadly were astatine higher consequence of vulnerability to nan virus.

Fenton wrote that nan rules for reimbursement were laid retired successful letters to California arsenic early arsenic March 27, 2020. Those requirements did not change, he said, though nan anterior letters don’t explicitly laic retired nan 20-day cap.

The COVID-19 pandemic was nan largest disaster consequence successful FEMA’s history. The agency said it has provided California much than $9.4 cardinal successful COVID-19-related assistance, and that each states and section governments are taxable to nan aforesaid argumentation and reimbursement process for sheltering bum people.

“FEMA nether its Public Assistance Program useful intimately pinch state, tribal, territorial and section governments to supply each eligible and disposable backing for reimbursement, and will proceed to do truthful for those impacted during nan pandemic,” said acting FEMA property caput Daniel Llargués.

California officials show a different story.

After declaring a authorities of emergency complete COVID-19, Newsom launched Project Roomkey successful April 2020 to thief unhoused group safely isolate themselves successful hotels and motels to forestall nan microorganism from spreading.

Some 62,000 group were sheltered done nan program.

Local counties and cities fronted nan costs of edifice leases and nutrient and work providers pinch nan anticipation that they’d beryllium reimbursed. FEMA’s committedness was captious to California’s expertise to protect its residents, Garcia’s missive states.

Initially, FEMA agreed to screen 75% of eligible expenses, but successful January 2021 nan agency agreed to reimburse each costs.

Fenton’s missive successful nan autumn came arsenic a shock.

“This October 2023 argumentation determination comes agelong aft section governments crossed our authorities had already expended important section resources nether Project Roomkey pinch nan afloat anticipation for reimbursement,” nan members of Congress wrote. “We statement that nary erstwhile headdress had ever been noticed by FEMA.”

California officials reason that nan indefinite magnitude of enactment was important for nationalist wellness and to let residents to modulation to different housing. The programme wasn’t cleanable — successful Los Angeles, it ne'er sewage adjacent to nan extremity of securing rooms for each estimated 15,000 eligible bum people, though it maintained a agelong hold database and galore of those housed near without explanation.

The reimbursement losses scope from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions: $114 cardinal for San Francisco metropolis and county, $22 cardinal for Ventura County and $200,000 for Madera County. Some jurisdictions that already received compensation could beryllium forced to salary nan money back.

Garcia said he’s intimately acquainted pinch Project Roomkey from his days arsenic Long Beach mayor. Long Beach stands to suffer $6.2 cardinal it spent lodging bum residents.

The business erodes spot betwixt California localities and FEMA, he said.

“I retrieve being astatine nan array erstwhile cities for illustration excavation were being told they’d beryllium afloat reimbursed for this,” Garcia said. “So it’s rather disturbing and rather frankly not acceptable that counties and cities crossed nan authorities fundamentally could suffer much than $300 cardinal for erstwhile expenditures that we had each nan logic to judge would beryllium reimbursed.”

In January, nan Governor’s Office of Emergency Services sent FEMA a missive urging it to reconsider nan cap.

“California is committed to maximizing national assistance to communities and has been aggressively pushing for FEMA to rescind nan determination to contradict promised assistance to section governments,” said Emergency Services spokesperson Brian Ferguson.

Had location been clearer guidance, Los Angeles would person recommended nan programme beryllium constricted to stays of 20 days aliases less, said City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo.

Wendy Huff Ellard, a disaster betterment lawyer who represents 4 California counties seeking FEMA reimbursement, arsenic good arsenic others successful Texas and New York, said immoderate localities will look important trouble recovering from nan nonaccomplishment of nan costs they spent.

“The cities and counties successful this lawsuit person relied connected FEMA providing backing for nan program,” she said. “It’s intolerable to spell backmost and alteration what they’ve done.”

Ellard said California is astatine nan forefront of what she thinks will beryllium denials crossed nan country. When reimbursement requests started rolling in, she said, “I deliberation FEMA realized really large nan programs were and that it possibly should person issued much circumstantial parameters.”

Llargués, nan FEMA spokesman, said that’s not true.

“FEMA did not revise eligibility for non-congregate sheltering aliases immoderate different COVID-19 related activities successful bid to trim costs,” he said.

Once FEMA issues exertion decisions, California governments that person denials tin statesman an entreaty and arbitration process. That could return adjacent to a year, Ellard said.

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Source latimes
latimes