The Americania Hotel at 121 7th St. is one of the many hotels the city has under contract. Trip Advisor rates vary from $75 a night to more than $300 a night. Tuesday, April 14, 2020 Photo by Lydia Chávez

Following a purgatorial 24 hours, a clarification today from the Federal Emergency Management Agency appears to answer San Francisco officials’ hopes and prayers: The city will, indeed, be 100 percent reimbursed for Covid-19 shelter-in-place hotels, retroactively to January, 2020. 

“Specifically, the President’s directive allows FEMA to pay 100% federal funding for the costs of activities that have previously been determined eligible, from the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021,” reads today’s statement from FEMA

“This means that all work eligible under FEMA’s existing COVID-19 policies, including increasing medical capacity, non-congregate sheltering, and emergency feeding distribution will be reimbursed at 100% federal share.” (emphasis ours)

This is tantamount to a federal stimulus payment to San Francisco, and a matter of perhaps “tens of millions of dollars,” current budget committee chair Supervisor Matt Haney has said

And there was much rejoicing

But it was muted: Following a bizarre communications hiccup on Tuesday, city officials who thought they were about to receive a windfall — one federal officials had been telling them to not expect — quickly had the rug pulled from beneath them. 

To wit, the “fact sheet” for yesterday’s White House announcement stated, unambiguously, that “Today, President Biden is announcing that the administration will go even further, retroactively reimbursing states for FEMA-eligible services — including masks, gloves, emergency feeding actions, sheltering at-risk populations, and mobilizations of the National Guard — backdated to the beginning of the pandemic in January, 2020.” (emphasis ours)

Oddly, however, the memorandum underlying this statement did not guarantee retroactive funding for shelter-in-place hotels of the sort housing thousands in San Francisco. In fact, it notably highlighted it as not eligible.

That document — which is the actual legal underpinning of the president’s act —  calls for 100 percent federal reimbursements. But, specifically, not for items “authorized by section 3(a) of my memorandum of January 21, 2021, performed from January 20, 2020, through January 20, 2021.” 

Perusing section 3(a), it calls for funding “the safe opening and operation of eligible schools, child-care facilities, healthcare facilities, non-congregate shelters, domestic violence shelters, transit systems, and other eligible applicants.” (emphasis ours)

In other words, the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away

City, state, and federal officials contacted yesterday by Mission Local were confused and worried. 

Following today’s FEMA statement, however, multiple government officials have stated that there is simply no other way to read the clearly stated language other than that San Francisco and other municipalities will be retroactively reimbursed going back to January, 2020 — period. 

Mission Local has asked FEMA to square the discrepancy between yesterday’s fact sheet and memorandum, and inquired whether the memorandum will have to be altered. 

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Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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