Oct. 5 (UPI) — The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday ordered Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to stop using federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay for grants awarded to schools that do not mandate masks.
The conditions of the program are “not a permissible use” of the funds allocated to the state under the American Rescue Plan which were intended for state and local governments to “contain the spread and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Adewale Adeyemo wrote in a letter to Ducey obtained by Politico and Arizona public radio station KJZZ.
“We are concerned that two recently created Arizona grant programs undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Adeyemo wrote.
The letter said Ducey’s office has 30 days to “remediate the issues” with the programs or face potential sanctions including loss of funding.
“A program or service that imposes conditions on participation or acceptance of the service that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based solutions for stopping the spread of COVID-19 is not a permissible use of [federal] funds,” Adeyemo wrote.
Ducey in August launched a $163 million grant program for schools that remained open during the pandemic but required schools to comply with a state law that outlaws mask mandates and vaccine requirements to qualify.
A second $10 million program provided low-income families funds for private school tuition, online tutoring or childcare, only if they were able to prove their current school was subjecting students to “physical COVID-19 constraints” such as requiring masks or “providing preferential treatment to vaccinated students.”
Upon announcing the programs, Ducey described mask mandates and requiring remote learning for students who had been exposed to the virus as “overbearing measures.”
“Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged — mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t,” he said at the time. “These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona students.”
CJ Karamargin, a representative for Ducey, said his administration was reviewing the letter and would respond.
“Following the challenges during the 2020 school year, everyone’s primary focus should be equipping families with the resources to get their kids caught up,” Karamargin said. “That’s exactly what this program does — giving families in need the opportunity to access educational resources like tutoring, childcare, transportation and more. It’s baffling anyone would disagree with this approach.”