The White House threatened to reclaim more than $4 billion in federal coronavirus aid it gave to Arizona after it was revealed that Republican Gov. Doug Ducey was using the money to discourage schools from requiring students and teachers to wear masks.
The move marks the latest in a series of efforts from the Biden administration to clamp down on red states that are attempting to bar school districts from implementing COVID-19 risk-mitigation strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid an alarming spike in infections.
The White House demand, issued in a letter from the Treasury Department first reported by The Washington Post, gives Ducey 60 days to redirect the federal aid in a way that matches the intent of the funding from the $350 billion American Recovery Plan Act, which is to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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At issue are two different programs the Arizona governor set in motion with the federal dollars – a $163 million program that directs money to financially struggling schools if they commit to in-person learning and do not require masks and a $10 million fund that connects families with charter schools if their traditional public schools pivot to remote learning or require their children to wear masks.
Over the summer, Arizona’s Republican lawmakers joined a handful of other red states in passing legislation that banned districts from requiring masks in schools. An Arizona judge deemed the ban unconstitutional in a ruling handed down in September.
According to the Post, a top compliance officer at the Treasury Department told Arizona officials that if they do not redirect the funding within 60 days they not only risk the government “initiating an action to recoup” the money but also risk potentially delaying the distribution of the second tranche of aid until administration’s concerned are “adequately addressed.”