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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Biden admin threatens to refund Arizona COVID-19 funding over anti-mask mandate rules

The Biden administration sent a letter to Arizona threatening to return COVID-19 relief funds sent to the state, saying that Arizona regulations do not encourage mandatory masks in schools.

In a letter (pdf) sent Jan. 14, the Treasury Department warned the State of Arizona that it has 60 days to remove or modify anti-mask mandate provisions that the Biden administration deems “inconsistent with the purpose and requirements” of the state’s Coronavirus and Local Funds Program. financial recovery (SLFRF).

Failure to do so “may result in Treasury initiating action to recover SLFRF funds used in violation of authorized uses” and the Department “may also withhold funds from the second tranche of Arizona SLFRF funds.”

The Ministry of Finance is considering two state programs. The first is Arizona’s Education Plus-Up grant program, which provides $163 million in funding to schools. However, areas that require masks are not eligible for grant funds.

The second is the COVID-19 Recovery Assistance Program, which provides up to $7,000 for parents — only if they meet income requirements and if the child’s school “isolates, quarantines, or puts children under physical restraint due to COVID.” -19 in schools, such as requiring the use of masks or providing preferential treatment for vaccinated students, which is contrary to the provisions established in the Laws of 2021, chapter 404, section 12.” This section states, “A school district or charter school cannot require a student or teacher to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or wear a mask to participate in in-person education.”

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Associate Director of Compliance Kathleen Victorino noted in the letter that federal guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all students, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools wear masks indoors.

“By discouraging families and school districts from following this guidance, the conditions mentioned above undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” she wrote. “Accordingly, these school programs, as currently structured, are an unacceptable use of SLFRF funds.”

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey criticized the letter. “As far as education is concerned, President [Joe] Biden wants to continue focusing on masks. In Arizona, we will focus on math and raise children after a year of learning loss.” He wrote on Twitter on Friday. “We will respond to this letter and continue to focus on things that matter to the people of Arizona.”

Arizona has received about half of the nearly $4.2 billion awarded to the state (pdf) through the SLFRF program, which is part of the American Plan of Rescue Act of 2021. The program provides $350 billion to state, local, and tribal governments across the United States. to support COVID-19 response and recovery.

To follow

Mimi Nguyen Ly is a reporter and assignment editor. It covers world news, with a particular focus on US news. Lives in Australia, has experience in clinical optometry. Contact Mimi at [email protected]

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