FEMA Emergency Declaration: Public Assistance for COVID-19 Financial Impacts

By Cort Jones | Posted on March 16, 2020

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While the impacts of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) are rapidly evolving, circumstances in communities across the country are changing quickly, as well. Many park and recreation agencies are heeding the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance and canceling or postponing events and activities for at least the next couple of weeks. This leads to a question many agencies are facing: What will the financial implications be on parks and recreation budgets?

From shutting down programs — which could lead to significant revenue shortfalls for many park and recreation agencies — to the broader revenue impacts felt by their communities, many park and recreation leaders in major cities across the country are anticipating, or already experiencing, hiring freezes and significant budget cuts.

But while regular programs and services may be put on hold during this global health crisis, many of the parks and facilities that these agencies operate and maintain are providing other critical services to their community or becoming staging sites for first responders. Given the role park and recreation professionals and the agencies they represent are playing during the COVID-19 outbreak, a major concern is that they may not be included when it comes to federal emergency assistance and have no way to recover their financial losses.

In some communities, like Montgomery County, Maryland, and Seattle, Washington, the local government is using specific accounting codes to track any expenses for efforts related to preparation and response to the COVID-19 outbreak in an effort to assess the financial impacts and streamline any requests to receive reimbursements from the federal government in the future.

While lost revenue isn’t eligible to be reimbursed through federal emergency assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has issued the following emergency declaration, which states additional expenses incurred at the direction of local and state health officials during this time will be reimbursed:

Eligible emergency protective measures taken at the direction or guidance of public health officials in response to this emergency, and not supported by the authorities of another federal agency, will be reimbursed strictly under the FEMA Public Assistance program. FEMA assistance will be provided at a 75 percent Federal cost share. Reimbursable activities typically include emergency protective measures such as the activation of State Emergency Operations Centers, National Guard costs, law enforcement and other measures necessary to protect public health and safety. Read the full emergency declaration here.

In many jurisdictions, the city manager’s office handles FEMA reimbursement, but if you have any specific questions regarding your agency’s eligibility for reimbursement, be sure to reach out to your regional FEMA contact.

We will continue to update you as more guidance becomes available during this time. For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals, please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.

Cort Jones is NRPA's Communications Manager.