Feds threaten to withhold COVID-19 relief money from Arizona over mask mandate ban
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The U.S. Treasury is threatening to claw back COVID-19 funding it sent to Arizona and said if the state doesn’t change its mask policy, it will withhold future funding.
The Treasury sends money to the states which then distributes it to cities, towns and school districts.
Below is a copy of the letter the Treasury sent to Arizona Friday, Jan. 14. You can also read it HERE.
At issue is Gov. Doug Ducey’s policy that withholds funding for school districts that have mask mandates and gives money to districts which don’t.
The Treasury said that policy violates the rules because it “undermines efforts to stop the spread of COVD-19.”
If Gov. Ducey doesn’t rescind the policy in 60 days, the department said it will recoup the funding that was used in “violation of the rules” and “withhold future funding.”
Ducey told KOLD “my message to the Biden Administration is, number one, we will see you in court.”
He accused the Biden Administration of changing the rules.
“We are following the rules,” Ducey said. “If they want to change the rules to distract from the stalling and failing of their agenda, that’s up to them.”
The Treasury did not say how much could be lost, but as much as $163 million may be on the table.
The Tucson Unified School District has a mask mandate but Board President Adelita Grijalva said the district has not been affected by Ducey’s policy.
She said the Ducey is punishing public schools in order to give money to the private and charter schools which have gone along with the prohibition on mask mandates.
“Even if you at the state level don’t want to get involved in the reality of the pandemic, allow the towns and districts to do what they can to protect our community,” Grijalva said.
She said withholding the money because of the policy will hurt the poor and disadvantaged.
“Withholding from the Governor’s office, I’m comfortable with that,” Grijalva said. “Unfortunately who’s going to get hurt, it’s really going to hurt those of us here fighting the fight.”
Ducey was in Tucson Friday to deliver his southern Arizona State of the State, a pared down version he presented to state lawmakers on Monday.
In it, he highlighted the economic achievements the state has made in his two terms in office. Ducey can’t run again because of term limits, but there are rumors he may run for higher office later.
He took several jabs at the Biden Administration, frequently over border issues.
“It’s time to get our kids back into the classrooms, it’s time to get our kids caught up,” he said. “Joe Biden is trying to focus on Arizona and my job rather than his job, his own failed vaccine distribution and the broken border we have.”
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