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FEMA no longer will reimburse for costs of disinfecting schools, transit

A Long Island Rail Road employee disinfects a

A Long Island Rail Road employee disinfects a train car with an eco-friendly cleaner while at the Hicksville LIRR station.   Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

WASHINGTON — A Trump administration change in policy this week could deprive New York of millions of dollars in federal funds to help pay for cleaning schools, transit systems and other public facilities for the rest of the year to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued the rule change Tuesday, saying it would no longer reimburse New York and other states for disinfecting schools, government buildings, transit systems and other public places after Sept. 15. 

The new policy said that after that date “not all costs associated with COVID-19 are eligible for FEMA PA [public assistance] funding.” 

It said that “the operation of schools and other public facilities, even with changes necessitated by the COVID-19 environment, are not emergency protective measures eligible for reimbursement,” adding “these are not immediate actions necessary to protect public health and safety.” 

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader, called it a “dirty decision.” 

“An absurd change like this one — that actually takes money away from New York that’s now being used to clean the subways or prepare schools for classes — is a slap in the face to front-line workers, vulnerable seniors and kids,” Schumer said in a news release.

New York State and New York City officials say that disinfecting the MTA, government buildings and schools will now no longer be eligible expenses, and that PPE for nonmedical workers has been strictly limited, according to Schumer. 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the move was "just another attempt by President Trump to hurt New York."

"By quietly changing FEMA policy to no longer fund personal protective equipment or disinfection efforts for the MTA and schools, the president is telling essential workers that he does not value their safety or their sacrifices over the last six months," Cuomo said in a statement.

Schumer spoke to FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor about the rule change on Thursday, but Gaynor provided no clear answers for the reasons for the new policy, Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said. 

MTA chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye criticized the move, as well as the lack of federal funding for the MTA amid the pandemic.

“The message from this latest punitive measure, coupled with the federal government's inexplicable failure to provide $12 billion in desperately needed funding is clear — Washington to MTA customers and employees: Drop Dead," he said in a statement.

The FEMA disaster relief fund for the novel coronavirus pandemic has sent $1.3 billion to New York so far, much of it during the spike of cases and deaths earlier this year.   

FEMA could not be reached for comment. 

With Alfonso A. Castillo