Biden administration to claw back Covid aid from Arizona over anti-mask policies

The Guardian - Fri Jan 14 17:19

The Biden administration is threatening to recoup millions of dollars in Covid-19 relief funds from Arizona because the state has been discouraging families from following federal guidance that recommends wearing masks in schools.

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has been at odds with the Biden administration for months over the use of the aid funds. Other Republican governors across the country have also been trying to use the funding for measures – such as tax cuts – that are not related to the pandemic and are not authorized under the terms of the grants.

Two Arizona state programs meant to help schools and students have been directing funding away from jurisdictions with mask requirements. The state’s Education Plus-Up Grant Program provides $163m in funding to schools, but districts that require face coverings are ineligible. And its Covid-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Program provides for up to $7,000 to help parents leave school districts that require children to wear face coverings.

The treasury department warned in a letter on Friday that the state has 60 days to remove the anti-masking provisions before the federal government moves to recover the relief money, and it threatened to withhold the next tranche of aid as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends universal mask-wearing in school settings to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“By discouraging families and school districts from following this guidance, the conditions referenced above undermine efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19,” the treasury department wrote. “Accordingly, these school programs as currently structured are ineligible uses of (Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds).”

Arizona has already received about half of the $4.2bn awarded to the state under the 2021 coronavirus relief bill.

More details soon …