Photo: Patrick Cashin / MTA New York City Transit
A recent rule change by the Federal Emergency Management Agency could take away funding for disinfecting subway cars and city schools, Sen. Chuck Schumer said on Thursday. New guidance from the agency says states need to cover the costs of disinfectants, personal protective equipment, temperature scanners, and other cleaning-related items that have been reimbursed by FEMA since March, the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. Schumer called the change a “downright dirty decision” made during a time when New York and the rest of the country continues to fight against the spread of the virus.
Under the new rule, schools, public facilities, and subways would not be considered for reimbursements by FEMA, making state, cities, and/or schools pay for the disinfection measures.
“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 frontline workers, vulnerable seniors and kids,” Schumer said, according to NY1.
The rule change comes as President Donald Trump said he wants to cut funding to New York City and other cities like Portland and Seattle. “My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump tweeted this week. In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Trump’s call to defund New York an “illegal effort.”
“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. “Make no mistake, this is just another attempt by President Trump to hurt New York. We won’t be bullied.”
Cuomo added: “The subways, buses, and schools have never been cleaner – and despite the federal government’s negligence, the state will continue to work with the MTA and school districts to ensure transit workers, riders, teachers, students, and all New Yorkers remain safe.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also fighting for more funding from Washington. Without at least $12 billion in federal funding, subway and bus service could be cut by up to 40 percent, according to the MTA. The agency is facing a budget deficit of $16.2 billion through 2024 because of the pandemic.
Ridership, which dropped by 90 percent during the height of the crisis in April, has yet to recover, now reaching just a quarter of normal levels.
MTA spokesperson Ken Lovett told Gothamist that the agency has submitted $160 million for FEMA reimbursement. Despite the new rule, Lovett said the overnight cleaning of subway cars will continue.
“Our highest priority is the safety of our customers and employees and that includes the unprecedented disinfecting efforts that we will continue to undertake in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lovett said. “We have made it clear we need $12 billion from the federal government to get us through 2021 and this sudden and reckless White House action is another hit we — including our customers and employees — simply cannot afford.”
Gothamist reported that the city’s $640 million budget for cleaning city schools has not been touched and that Mayor Bill de Blasio will meet with FEMA representatives on Friday to fight the rule change.
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