WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is threatening to recoup COVID-19 relief funds sent to Arizona over state provisions that it says discourage families and school districts from following federal guidance recommending face coverings in schools.
At issue are two state programs that are meant to help schools and students but that direct funding away from jurisdictions with mask requirements. Arizona’s Education Plus-Up Grant Program provides $163 million 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 for parents if their child’s school requires face coverings.
In a Friday letter, the Treasury Department warned 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 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 $4.2 billion awarded to the state under the 2021 coronavirus relief bill.
Story by Fatima Hussein and Zeke Miller.