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Los Angeles receives FEMA money for COVID-19-related homeless program

The city of Los Angeles will receive nearly $60 million in long-awaited federal reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover housing expenses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a larger $300 million package of pandemic-related funding.

City officials learned of the reimbursements from the California Office of Emergency Services in one of a series of meetings with state officials during a two-day visit to Sacramento by the mayor and other council members, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said.

In addition to meeting with CalOES head Nancy Ward about the FEMA reimbursement, Bass said, the delegation also asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom to revise a proposal in his budget that asks cities to return state housing funds that had already been allocated. So far, no announcement has been made regarding the budget proposal.

“Our partnership with the state has delivered significant progress for our city and now, thanks to Gov. Gavin Newsom and his cabinet, hundreds of millions of dollars in long awaited COVID-19 reimbursement funding will be delivered to Los Angeles,” Bass said in a statement.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and city council members met with California Gov. Gavin Newsom about state and federal funding for housing and homelessness during a two-day trip to the state’s capital.

Los Angeles Mayor’s Office

Cities across California provided motel rooms for homeless people in addition to quarantine space starting in April 2020, as part of Newsom’s roomkey program to lessen the spread of the disease. FEMA, state and cities have been in a dispute over federal funding locals say was promised.

CalMatters had reported Feb. 9 that FEMA was refusing to reimburse cities for money spent to move homelessness people into hotels to lessen the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak. FEMA had sent a letter to the state in October, saying it would not pay for hotel stays for longer than 20 days between June 11, 2021, and May 11, 2023.

The decision would cost California state and local governments more than $300 million collectively, according to an estimate from the governor’s Office of Emergency Services. FEMA had agreed in January 2021 to reimburse cities for 100% of the cost. At issue is FEMA said it only agreed to pay for people who needed to be quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19, while the cities were housing homeless people to lower the risk of spread.

The $60 million will cover Los Angeles’ costs to shelter homeless people in hotels during COVID-19, but prior to 2021, according to the mayor’s office. At risk is an additional $60 million the city hoped to recoup from the federal government for costs incurred after June 2021.

Money allocated by FEMA to cities has to pass through CalOES, a process that can take several months. City officials were enthusiastic about receiving the funding, because the agency had agreed to immediately cut a check, according to the mayor’s office.

City officials have met regularly with federal officials to raise the issue of outstanding FEMA payments. In recent months, Bass said, she met with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Acting Deputy Secretary Kristie Canegallo, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

The remainder of the $300 million allocated for COVID-19 reimbursements will go to Los Angeles Unified School District, Loma Linda University Medical Center and the Kaiser Foundation.

“I want to thank Governor Newsom for ensuring that the city of Los Angeles is receiving its share of federal funds,” Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian said.

The delegation also met with State Treasurer Fiona Ma to discuss the challenges developers and housing providers encounter in using waivers granted to Los Angeles by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. They discussed with the treasurer how public-private partnerships can be tapped to build more affordable housing and how the city could benefit from investment programs run by the treasurer.

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