The Biden administration is threatening to withhold COVID-19 relief funds and claw back past aid from Arizona because it says the state is using the money to undermine federal guidelines on masks in schools.
The Treasury Department sent a letter to Arizona officials on Friday warning that the state has 60 days to redesign two current programs that contain anti-masking provisions.
Federal officials say both programs are designed to divert funding from school districts that have introduced mask mandates under CDC guidelines.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey rolled out the two programs late last year amid a dispute with the Biden administration over how the state could use the $4.2 billion given to it. as part of the Coronavirus Relief Bill 2021.
Under the first program, districts that require masks in schools are currently ineligible to receive any of the $163 million in funding through Arizona’s Education Plus-Up grant program.
The state’s separate $10 million COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program provides up to $7,000 in vouchers to help families move out of districts if their child’s school requires face masks.
The Treasury Department argues that the way Arizona’s school programs are currently structured is an “ineligible” use of federal pandemic aid.
“By discouraging families and school districts from following (CDC’s) guidance, the above-noted conditions undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the Treasury Department wrote in its letter.
Treasury officials said they would begin collecting federal relief money that Arizona had already sent and would withhold the next batch of aid, if the state did not change the arrangements.
Arizona has already received about half of the $4.2 billion the state received under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package.
Governor Ducey criticized the Biden administration on Friday, saying the threats to withhold aid from his state were “the latest example of a president completely out of touch with the American people.”
“When it comes to education, President Biden wants to continue to focus on masks. In Arizona we will be focusing on math and catching up with the kids after a year of lost learning,” he tweeted.
“We will respond to this letter and we will continue to focus on the things that matter to Arizonans. President Biden should do the same, and he can start by addressing the border crisis.
Governor Ducey is among a handful of GOP governors who have torn Biden over federal mask, test or vaccine mandates throughout the pandemic.
New York Post