School districts will be getting less money from the federal government than they expected this fall to cover COVID-related expenses.

For months, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had told schools that they were eligible for reimbursement for PPE, plastic desk barriers, cleaning supplies, and other materials.

But FEMA changed course last week.

In a letter to New Hampshire state officials, FEMA said even during the pandemic, schools did not qualify for financial assistance “because the education of children is not an immediate action necessary to protect public health, life, and safety.”

The change affects schools across the country.

Officials in Salem and Londonderry say FEMA’s decision leaves them each scrambling for around $350,000 to cover COVID-related expenses. In Manchester, officials say COVID-related expenses total over $11 million. They say until last week, they believed $2.2 million of this would be covered by FEMA.

The state says there are still ways to foot the bill, including nearly half of the $34 million made available to New Hampshire schools through the CARES Act. According to the N.H. DOE, many districts have yet to tap into these funds.

In Manchester, this CARES Act school funding will cover around half of their COVID-related expenses. In a letter to state lawmakers on Tuesday, Mayor Joyce Craig requested that the state send another $5.5 million to the city to cover the shortfall.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include costs in Manchester.

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These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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