Arizona Could Lose Relief Funds for Undermining School Mask Mandates

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned Arizona on Tuesday that it might lose a few of its state and native restoration funds as a result of it has been utilizing cash meant to fight the pandemic to undercut masks necessities in colleges.

In a letter to Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, the Treasury Department stated the state was misusing the cash, which was supposed to assist native governments bolster public well being measures. As a part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic assist bundle that Congress handed earlier this 12 months, states and cities had been awarded $350 billion of relief money that they might use for all kinds of functions.

However, the funds can’t be used to impose situations “that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based solutions for stopping the spread of Covid-19,” Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, wrote.

Arizona was awarded $4.2 billion from the fund and has obtained about half of that up to now.

Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature banned school mask mandates earlier this 12 months, however some faculty districts imposed them anyway. In August, Mr. Ducey introduced that he was rolling out two teaching programs supposed to undercut such necessities.

A $163 million program supplies as much as $1,800 in further funding per pupil in public and constitution colleges. However, these colleges have to be “following all state laws” and open for in-person instruction. Schools that required masks wouldn’t be eligible.

A separate $10 million program funds vouchers value as much as $7,000 to assist poor households depart districts that require face coverings or impose different Covid-related “constraints.”

“Parents and families applying for program funding must demonstrate that their current school is isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical Covid-19 constraints in schools, such as requiring the use of masks or providing preferential treatment to vaccinated students,” Mr. Ducey’s office said in August.

The Treasury Department is giving Mr. Ducey 30 days to vary or finish the packages, in any other case the federal funds invested in them could possibly be clawed again.

“We are concerned that two recently created Arizona grant programs undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19,” Mr. Adeyemo stated.

A spokesman for Arizona’s legal professional basic didn’t instantly have a remark.

The Biden administration has given states broad discretion over how they’ll use the restoration funds; nevertheless, there are some restrictions.

Arizona is one in every of a number of Republican-led states which have sued Treasury over a rule that prevents states from using the relief money to subsidize tax cuts.

The letter to Mr. Ducey was the primary warning that the Treasury Department has despatched to a state over what it views as misuse of funds.

States across the nation have been locked in authorized battles over masks mandates or bans towards masks necessities in colleges.

A superior court judge struck down Arizona’s ban on faculty masks mandates final month. The state’s Supreme Court agreed final week to listen to the case, leaving the standing of the regulation in limbo till later this 12 months.

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