Federal Coronavirus Relief Covers School Custodial Expenses

April 20, 2021

Just as millions of Americans have received stimulus funds for monetary coronavirus relief from the federal government, so have school districts across the country. Each school district could decide how to use the funds. New York City schools used the first of its three federal coronavirus relief packages to cover school custodial expenses, Chalkboard recently reported.

The paychecks for about 7,500 school custodians—employed by nonprofit School Support Service—are to be covered by the first stimulus check, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request by Chalkbeat. New York City’s education department planned to use US$631 million stimulus funds they received to cover “cleaners, handypersons, firepersons, and engineers that support the regular operation” of school buildings.

New York City officials confirmed that the estimated $644 million budget from the School Support Service will mostly be covered by the stimulus funds. The school district’s application was approved in January and the money must be used this fiscal year which ends on June 30.

Julia Martin, legislative director for Brustein and Manasevit whom has provided education-related legal advice to states, told Chalkbeat that she believes spending the stimulus funds from the first relief package on wages for existing workers is “kind of a gray area.” However, Martin said the district “can argue that disease spread mitigation and public health is more important than ever, [and] there were a lot of concerns early on in the pandemic about staff layouts.”

Katie O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the education department, wrote in a statement that due to state’s budget cuts they “found eligible expenses for this money” that “supported custodial workers who helped keep school communities safe during these challenging times.”

City officials also confirmed they have spent $50 million in cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) plus $22 million for ventilation repairs, air purifiers, and partitions in schools.

In the other two federal relief packages, nearly $7 billion has been earmarked for New York City schools and the funds can be spent on PPE, computers for students who are learning at home, and for programs to combat learning loss. However, the state is requiring school districts to hold public feedback sessions and submit detailed plans explaining how they will spend the recent stimulus allocations.

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