September 14, 2020
New FEMA policy ends financial support to the courts for PPE and disinfecting related to the coronavirus
Per a conference call the first week of September with emergency managers, Keith Turi, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) assistant administrator for recovery announces effective September 15 FEMA will generally not reimburse states for the costs of cloth face coverings, personal protective equipment, or cleaning and disinfection costs unless they are considered an emergency protective measure for courts. This is a change in the definition of “emergency protective measures” altering eligibility under FEMA's Public Assistance Program.
Beginning September 15, 2020, cloth face masks, personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting costs will be classified as “increased operating costs”. FEMA will not be providing face covering or protective gear to the courts even after an outbreak has occurred because the equipment is related to the operation of the facility. FEMA’s position is the support of courthouses is “not a direct emergency protective measures and therefore they're not eligible for [public assistance]." FEMA suggests courts look into federal assistance from other sources to make up for the funding loss. For orders that have been placed but not yet received the court will need to speak with the regional FEMA official.
Courts across the country are already experiencing budget shortfalls. In Texas the successful Teen Court is facing a lack of funding. In Virginia, budget freezes have prevented the hiring of much needed clerks. A court in California has had to limit the number of days they are open due to a $5.5 million dollar budget shortfall. And across Florida courts are scrambling to keep from furloughing clerks.
In this month’s Trends Close Up, NCSC’s Court Consulting provides a guide to grants and the courts, aimed at helping the courts keep the halls of justice open during and after the pandemic with limited interruptions to justice. NCSC Pandemic Resource Center also provides information for navigating the difficulties of maintaining court operations during a pandemic.
For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.