Nearly 40 members of Congress called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency Tuesday to fully refund California cities for more than $300 million they spent providing emergency shelter for unhoused people during the pandemic, something a new agency policy could prevent.

FEMA sent a letter to the state in October notifying it that reimbursements would only be paid for stays of less than 20 days in emergency shelters like the Project Roomkey motel conversions that provided housing for vulnerable people during the pandemic.

Funding from FEMA was originally supposed to cover 75% of projects with the state paying for the other portion, something that could be in jeopardy with the new policy.

Congressman Robert Garcia, who served as mayor of Long Beach during the pandemic, led a list of 36 members of the state’s delegation including Long Beach’s other representative, Congresswoman Nanette Barragan and two Republicans, that signed onto a letter to FEMA calling for a full refund.

Long Beach was due $6.2 million, according to the letter. Other cities and counties were owed up to as much as $114 million each.

“In order for local governments to do their part in future disaster situations, it is imperative that California cities and counties are able to recover pandemic costs without sacrificing essential services and their continued investment in housing and community resources,” the letter from the delegation said.

It’s unclear what the financial hit could be for the city, which is already projecting a deficit of $28 million for the fiscal year starting in October. A city spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about the potential fallout for the city’s budget or how the city might fill the funding gap if FEMA doesn’t pay full refunds.

Long Beach and other cities in the state scrambled to provide emergency housing for homeless people at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, using motels and other shelters to house older and vulnerable people living on the streets. That swift action came at a big cost, which cities believed would be reimbursed by the federal government.

One of those projects was the Days Inn in Downtown which ended its operations in September 2022.

The motel conversions provided personal space at a time when medical experts were still trying to understand how the COVID-19 virus spread.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.