Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Arizona Will Not Stop Spending COVID Money on Mask Control Grants

PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducy is ignoring a demand that he stop using federal coronavirus aid money to fund an education grant program that can only go to schools without mask mandates.

The Republican governor is also continuing a program whereby parents receive vouchers to private schools, unhappy that their children’s schools require masks or quarantines after exposure to COVID-19.

In a letter sent to the US Treasury Department on Thursday, federal grants group manager Dewey ignored the US Treasury’s demand to stop using the money. Instead, Jason Mistlebauer said the money was appropriately used to help students hit by school mask demands.

“In Arizona, disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of the government’s measures, and the state wants to ensure that low-income students are not disproportionately affected by mask rules and school closures,” Mistlebauer wrote.

Despite the rationale outlined by Mistlebauer, Ducy’s $ 163 million grant program extends to schools in high-income areas, but only if they don’t require masks. And the much smaller program, which issues vouchers to private schools for parents whose children’s public schools have restrictions on camouflage or require isolation after contracting COVID-19, isn’t just targeting low-income children. Applicants can earn up to 350% of the federal poverty level, which is $ 92,750 for a family of four.

Dewey, a Republican, created grant programs in August to pressure school districts that challenged a state ban on the use of masks. This ban was later overturned by the courts, but Ducy did not lift the restrictions on which school districts are eligible for education.

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The Treasury Department said last month that grant programs are “not an acceptable use” of federal funding. It was one of a series of attempts by the Biden administration to fend off Republican governors who opposed mask mandates and otherwise sought to use federal funding for the pandemic to advance their own interests.

In a letter, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said the conditions “undermine scientifically based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.” He asked the state to explain how it would “solve” the problem within 30 days.

A Ducey spokesman dodged the question why he did not respond to the federal government’s demand to stop spending money on unauthorized programs.

“The federal government has set forth their reasons why they do not consider it appropriate,” said K.J. Karamargin. “And we responded as they asked of us and provided our analysis of why we think so.”

The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing universal masks for students and teachers in the classroom. The CDC has issued guidance in light of the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.

Maricopa County health officials said there have been significantly more COVID-19 outbreaks in schools without mandatory masks. The report provided to district overseers in August was later used as the basis for the CDC’s report.

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