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Two New Grants Help Fire Agencies Amid the COVID-19 Battle

ESO Staff

EMS agencies and first responders continue to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines in a health emergency unprecedented in recent history. And while health care professionals face the most immediate risks in ambulances and hospitals across the U.S., a new trend is presenting a different concern in the background: an overall drop in 9-11 calls unrelated to the new virus, specifically for things like motor vehicle crashes, heart attack, and stroke.

While ideally this would mean a healthier community, it’s more likely the result of several factors related to the current state of society. With widespread shelter-in-place orders, a lessening of overall activity by the population, a reduction in elective hospital procedures, and a pervasive fear of going to the hospital – presumably risking exposure to the virus from other patients – ambulance and fire agencies are seeing an reduction in overall volume, in some places up to 50%.

And while there is still plenty of work to go around, this trend creates some serious concerns for agencies in regards to meeting operating expenses, payroll, and other regular bills. Mix in new expenses from COVID-19 emergency operations and infrastructure, the fiscal future of many agencies requires immediate attention.

The good news is that FEMA recently advised EMS and fire departments of two grants aimed at keeping agencies operating and employees paid: the Paycheck Protection Program and the Public Assistance Grant Program. Open now for application, these two grants are offering substantial help for agencies facing short-term gaps as all efforts have been turned toward COVID-19.

Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program was created by the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) signed into law on Mar. 27, 2020. Administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), this program actually forgives its loans if certain conditions are met. The maximum amount available to borrow is 2.5 times average total monthly payroll costs, not to exceed $10 million.

The loans may be used for expenses (incurred Feb. 15, 2020 through June 30, 2020) such as payroll costs, costs related to the continuation of group healthcare benefits and insurance premiums, employee compensation, mortgage interest obligations, rent and utilities, and interest on debt incurred prior to the loan. At least 75% of the loan amount must be used for payroll costs.

Most ambulance services – either private for-profit companies or non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations – that employ 500 employees or less, including tribal ambulance services, are eligible. Combination career/volunteer ambulance services are also be eligible, but government-operated ambulance services are not.

To apply for the Payroll Protection Plan, you should talk to your local bank; any bank that is eligible to process loans under the federal SBA loan program is generally able to process the application. The application process can be completed in a couple of hours or less in most cases and can be signed electronically. However, the PPP is “first-come, first served,” so you should get your application in as soon as possible, as funds will be dispersed quickly and most experts believe the current allocation will not be enough to cover all the loan requests.

FEMA Public Assistance Grant Program

Additionally, state, local, tribal, and territorial government entities, and certain private nonprofit organizations, are eligible to apply to FEMA for reimbursement of emergency protective measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 emergency. 911 and EMS agencies (including fire service, third government service, and certain private nonprofit services) may be reimbursed for certain costs related to the COVID-19 response.

While lost revenue is not covered under the Public Assistance Grant Program, the program does provide assistance at a 75% federal cost share (not duplicating assistance provided by other federal agencies), and covers expenses such as:

  • Specialized emergency medical care of COVID-19 patients and medical transport, including to alternative destinations
  • Emergency operations centers (EOCs): Increased utility, lease, and supply costs.
  • Facilities: Cleaning/disinfection of stations, apparatus, and equipment; purchase of disinfection products, supplies, and services; relocation to a temporary facility; enhancements to existing facilities.
  • Meals: Meals and meal supplies for emergency workers (restrictions apply).
  • Medical supplies: Purchase of durable and disposable medical supplies; disposal of medical waste.
  • Medical testing and vaccination for emergency workers.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): Purchase and cleaning of PPE.
  • Responder housing: Non-congregate sheltering for first responders who test positive for COVID-19, have been exposed to the virus, or require isolation as a precautionary measure.
  • Staffing: Backfill employees, temporary employees, and overtime costs. Reimbursable work must be directly linked to the emergency declaration. See the FEMA Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide, pp. 23-26, for specific information related to staffing, including EOCs.
  • Training specific to the COVID-19 response.

A submission request for public assistance must provide complete and accurate documentation of expenses and usage. This includes standardized Incident Command System (ICS) forms, Public Assistance Grant forms, verifiable receipts, personnel cost sheets and apparatus sheets (type, size, etc.). You can view this video on how to use the online FEMA grant portal to apply for the Public Assistance Grant Program.

Reducing the Application Headache

Many fire and EMS organizations don’t take advantage of funding opportunities related to federally declared emergencies and disasters because they believe that the reporting requirements are difficult and that record keeping is time consuming. However, digital reporting tools can make tracking and reporting required statistics as simple as possible.

ESO provides software tools for fire, EMS, and hospital that make it easier to track and report on a wide range of variables in an agency’s operations, and these features are especially helpful when gathering documentation for grant applications. For example, ESO Analytics can instantly calculate PPE usage, while ESO Scheduling can help track costs for a Disaster Response Cost Recovery workbook. Functions like these make it exponentially easier to apply for useful grants and loans that can ease the burden of providing appropriate gear and staff within your agency.

Additionally, ESO has been working to release and promote COVID-19-related product features to support their partners’ ongoing strategic fight against the virus. You can view these product updates at the COVID-19 resource center. Daily nationwide statistical updates and reports based on customer data are also being shared on the ESO COVID-19 dashboard.

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