Schools that purchased PPE early on won’t be reimbursed with emergency funds

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Updated: Jan. 12, 2021 at 5:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Personal protective equipment for schools was a huge, unexpected expense last year.

Many administrators spent tens of thousands of dollars from their budget, anticipating the state would provide federal emergency funds to cover it.

But that won’t happen after all, Hawaii News Now has learned.

“In speaking to individual schools, I know that some of them spent well over $100,000 on PPEs,” said state Sen. Michelle Kidani, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Kidani was told by school leaders that the Hawaii Emergency Management Office was the agency distributing the federal emergency funds to schools for PPE.

So what happened?

“In speaking to HI-EMA, General (Kenneth) Hara, a few weeks ago, he concluded they were not going to get reimbursed,” Kidani said.

In a statement, an agency spokesman said, “HI-EMA is not responsible for reimbursement decisions.”

The statement also said the agency has provided millions of dollars worth of PPE to the state Department of Education in what was described as a “very complex distribution arrangement to individual schools acting as the DOE Logistics operations.”

Just after the new school year kicked off, some teachers reported that they were not being provided proper personal protective equipment.

David Negaard, an English teacher at Baldwin High School, read testimony from his peers who feared retaliation at the Board of Education meeting in September, just after the school year started.

“I am appalled that the PPE I received from my school were two, travel-sized containers of hand sanitizer, a homemade mask and a flimsy face shield held together with a rubber band. That’s the PPE I received as we were preparing for students to return to school,” Negaard’s collegue wrote.

Many school leaders ended up using money from their budget to buy items like plexiglass, face shields, large bottles of hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

The CARES Act provided $1.25 billion in federal emergency funds to the state for COVID relief and there was leftover money, which was turned over the unemployment insurance fund.

That money could possibly have been used to reimburse PPE expenses ― if DOE asked.

A spokesperson for the Governor’s office told us the DOE did submit request to the Budget and Finance Division in November, but the spokesperson didn’t say if that was specifically for PPE reimbursements.

We did ask DOE but did not hear back as of late Tuesday.

There is a Senate hearing Wednesday in which lawmakers are expected to ask DOE for more information regarding the purchase of PPE.

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