California fights for federal tax dollars to cover $300M it spent on COVID-era housing program

California could be forced to pay at least $300 million it spent on coronavirus-era housing programs after the Federal Emergency Management Agency capped reimbursements in a “retroactive” rule change. announced. new york post report.

In March 2020, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom instituted Project Room Key, a program to house homeless people in vacant hotel rooms to curb the spread of COVID-19. .

FEMA officials assured California cities and counties that they would be reimbursed 75% of the program costs. It subsequently announced that it would offer full refunds until July 1, 2022, and 90% refunds after that. However, the federal agency announced in October that it would not provide refunds for many hotel stays longer than 20 days from June 2021 to May 2023. san francisco chronicle.

San Francisco officials argued they were blindsided by the October announcement and would have acted differently if the reimbursement cap had been shared earlier.

The city spent $84,600 housing each homeless person, according to data reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The city of San Francisco wants federal taxpayers to foot the bill for the $190 million it would spend to house 5,000 people.

Nancy Ward, director of the California Department of Emergency Services, sent a memo to FEMA in January asking it to reverse its decision. Ward said FEMA applied its policies “inconsistently” across the country.

“It’s not over until FEMA sings. It’s not over yet,” San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said.

In a letter to FEMA officials, San Francisco Commissioner Ben Rosenfield accused FEMA of enforcing “impermissible retroactive laws.”

“We intend to consider all options to contest claims denied by FEMA Region 9 that we believe are eligible for reimbursement based on guidance in effect at the time,” he said.

City officials said FEMA’s refusal to cover the costs could pose a “significant potential risk” to its budget.

Without reimbursement from FEMA, Sonoma County could be on the hook for $32 million and San Diego County could be hit with $28 million. Karmatters report.

Daniel Lopez, a spokesperson for Newsom’s office, told Cal Matters that the governor’s office expects FEMA to “keep its promises.”

FEMA told the Post that all states have been provided with “the same guidance and policy updates throughout the pandemic.”

“FEMA is committed to providing each affected individual with all federal funding requests to maximize reimbursement for the appropriate life-saving measures taken to protect the public from COVID-19 and to ensure appropriate oversight of federal funds. We are committed to working with jurisdictions,” he added. .

The agency is still reviewing funding requests submitted by states, cities and other jurisdictions.

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