Arizona could lose relief funds for undermining mask warrants
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration on Tuesday warned Arizona it could lose some of its state and local stimulus funds as it used money intended to fight the pandemic to reduce mask requirements in schools.
In a letter to Republican Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, the Treasury Department said the state was misusing the money, which was intended to help local governments strengthen public health measures. As part of the $ 1.9 trillion pandemic assistance package that Congress passed earlier this year, states and cities have received $ 350 billion in emergency aid they could use for various purposes.
However, the funds cannot be used to impose conditions “that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 or discourage adherence to evidence-based solutions to stop the spread of Covid-19,” Wally wrote Adeyemo, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. .
Arizona has received $ 4.2 billion from the fund and has received about half of it so far.
Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature banned school mask terms earlier this year, but some school districts imposed them anyway. In August, Mr. Ducey announced he was launching two education programs aimed at reducing these requirements.
A $ 163 million program provides up to $ 1,800 in additional funding per student in public and charter schools. However, these schools must “obey all state laws” and be open to in-person instruction. Schools that required masks would not be eligible.
A separate $ 10 million program funds vouchers worth up to $ 7,000 to help poor families leave neighborhoods that require face coverings or impose other Covid-related ‘constraints’.
“Parents and families applying for program funding must demonstrate that their current school is isolating, quarantining or physically restraining children from Covid-19 in schools, such as requiring the use of masks or providing treatment preferential to vaccinated students, ”said Mr. Ducey. office said in August.
The Treasury Department gives Mr. Ducey 30 days to change or terminate the programs, otherwise the federal funds invested in them could be clawed back.
“We are concerned that two recently established Arizona grant programs may undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19,” Mr. Adeyemo said.
A spokesperson for the Arizona attorney general did not immediately comment.
The Biden administration has given states wide discretion over how they can use the recovery funds; however, there are some restrictions.
Arizona is one of many Republican-led states that have sued the Treasury over a rule that prevents states from using relief money to subsidize tax cuts.
The letter to Mr. Ducey was the first warning the Treasury Department sent to a state for what it considers embezzlement.
States across the country have been locked in legal battles over mask warrants or bans against mask requirements in schools.
A superior court judge last month overturned Arizona’s ban on school masks. The state’s Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last week, leaving the statute of the law in limbo until the end of the year.