Arizona Could Lose Relief Funds for Undermining Mask Mandates

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned Arizona on Tuesday that it may 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 faculties.

In a letter to Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, the Treasury Division 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 help bundle that Congress handed earlier this 12 months, states and cities had been awarded $350 billion of aid cash that they might use for all kinds of functions.

Nonetheless, the funds can’t be used to impose circumstances “that may undermine efforts to cease the unfold of Covid-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based options for stopping the unfold 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 faculty masks mandates earlier this 12 months, however some faculty districts imposed them anyway. In August, Mr. Ducey introduced that he was rolling out two education schemes supposed to undercut such necessities.

A $163 million program gives as much as $1,800 in further funding per pupil in public and constitution faculties. Nonetheless, these faculties should be “following all state legal guidelines” and open for in-person instruction. Colleges that required masks wouldn’t be eligible.

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

“Dad and mom and households making use of for program funding should exhibit that their present faculty is isolating, quarantining, or subjecting kids to bodily Covid-19 constraints in faculties, reminiscent of requiring using masks or offering preferential remedy to vaccinated college students,” Mr. Ducey’s workplace stated in August.

The Treasury Division is giving Mr. Ducey 30 days to vary or finish the applications, in any other case the federal funds invested in them may very well be clawed again.

“We’re involved that two just lately created Arizona grant applications undermine evidence-based efforts to cease the unfold of Covid-19,” Mr. Adeyemo stated.

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

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

Arizona is certainly one of a number of Republican-led states which have sued Treasury over a rule that stops states from utilizing the aid cash to subsidize tax cuts.

The letter to Mr. Ducey was the primary warning that the Treasury Division 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 in opposition to masks necessities in faculties.

A superior court docket decide struck down Arizona’s ban on faculty masks mandates final month. The state’s Supreme Court docket 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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