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 faculties.
In a letter to Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, the Treasury Division mentioned 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 support bundle that Congress handed earlier this yr, states and cities have been awarded $350 billion of relief money 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 acquired about half of that up to now.
Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature banned school mask mandates earlier this yr, however some college 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 gives as much as $1,800 in extra 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 value as much as $7,000 to assist poor households depart districts that require face coverings or impose different Covid-related “constraints.”
“Mother and father and households making use of for program funding should exhibit that their present college is isolating, quarantining, or subjecting youngsters to bodily Covid-19 constraints in faculties, reminiscent of requiring using masks or offering preferential therapy to vaccinated college students,” Mr. Ducey’s office said in August.
The Treasury Division is giving Mr. Ducey 30 days to vary or finish the packages, in any other case the federal funds invested in them may very well be clawed again.
“We’re involved that two lately created Arizona grant packages undermine evidence-based efforts to cease the unfold of Covid-19,” Mr. Adeyemo mentioned.
A spokesman for Arizona’s lawyer normal didn’t instantly have a remark.
The Biden administration has given states broad discretion over how they will use the restoration funds; nonetheless, 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 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 judge struck down Arizona’s ban on college masks mandates final month. The state’s Supreme Courtroom agreed final week to listen to the case, leaving the standing of the regulation in limbo till later this yr.