Schools will have to absorb $5M they used to buy PPE in pandemic’s early days

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Updated: Jan. 13, 2021 at 5:56 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public schools will have to absorb the nearly $5 million they used to purchase personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic.

It’s money they thought they’d get back in federal emergency funds.

In a legislative briefing Wednesday, state education leaders said they were under the impression that the PPE spending would be reimbursed by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

“In the early days, the schools provided and took the proactive measures of getting the PPEs,” assistant Superintendent Randall Tanaka told state senators.

DOE said agency didn’t explain why they changed course about two months ago, but they hinted it may have been linked to federal changes in the rules for emergency funds.

“We were ready to request reimbursements from HI-EMA before FEMA changed the rules and that didn’t happen,” said DOE Chief Financial Officer Brian Hallett.

Tanaka added, “So we sit on this, I would call it a debt, as we figure out how to balance that liability.”

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the unexpected loss of nearly $5 million is forcing DOE to make more changes at a time when it’s already facing a massive funding shortfall.

“We have to solve for that and look forward to planning for summer and next school year,” she said.

HI-EMA told Hawaii News Now that they are not responsible for reimbursement but are responsible for distribution of PPE units. A spokesman said they’ve spent millions to keep schools safe.

Schools have a 60-day supply of PPE, including face shields, plexiglass, and cleaning supplies.

Inventory is taken every Friday and replenished to keep up the supply.

The Education Department told lawmakers they have submitted a request for reimbursement from the state Budget and Finance Department.

State Sen. Michelle Kidani also said she briefed the governor about the situation and hopes he will step in to help make the schools whole.

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