Judge dismisses Arizona lawsuit over limits on virus relief funds

PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has dismissed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s demands that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 aid to schools that don’t have mask or mask requirements. that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks

The state filed the lawsuit earlier this year after the US Treasury Department demanded that Ducey restructure the $163 million program to remove restrictions it says undermine public health recommendations or face a lawsuit. of reimbursement.

The Treasury Department also wanted changes to a $10 million program Ducey created that gives private school tuition money to parents if their children’s schools have mask mandates.

In a ruling earlier this week, US District Judge Steven Logan concluded that it was reasonable for the Biden administration to say the money could not be spent on efforts that would undermine compliance with COVID-19 prevention guidelines. The judge said a program that requires breaches of guidelines can worsen the pandemic and create more negative effects, defeating the purpose of the relief fund.

While Ducey asserted that the American Bailout Act was unclear about the conditions it placed on the use of aid money, the judge agreed with the Biden administration’s argument that the permitted uses for the funds under the law, and your authorization for the Department of the Treasury to issue appropriate regulations: inform the state of the conditions associated with the acceptance of the money.

Ducey’s attorneys have said in court records that the governor is appealing the ruling. Ducey’s spokesman, CJ Karamargin, said Saturday that the governor’s office was reviewing the decision.

The lawsuit says the Treasury Department created restrictions on spending the money Arizona receives under the American Bailout Act on its own and without legal authority. He asked a court to declare the Treasury Department’s rules illegal and permanently block the app and any demand that he pay back money spent on the two programs.

The Treasury Department began requiring Ducey to change programs in October. It was part of a concerted effort to force Arizona and some other Republican-led states that have opposed mask mandates or were using pandemic funds to further their own agendas to end those practices.

Ducey rejected Treasury’s request the following month, and the Biden administration followed up with a formal demand that he stop using the money for the disputed programs or face demands to pay or withhold additional money he will receive under the bill. COVID-19 relief from Biden. .

At issue are two state programs the Republican governor created last summer to help schools and students.

The Arizona Education Plus-Up Grant Program provides $163 million in funding to schools in higher-income areas that received less than $1,800 per student in federal virus aid. Districts that require face coverings or that have closed due to virus outbreaks are not eligible.

Another called the COVID-19 Education Recovery Benefits Program provides up to $7,000 for parents if their child’s school requires face coverings or quarantines after exposure. It allows parents to use the money for private school tuition or other educational costs and is designed to mirror the state’s existing school voucher program.

Ducey created the programs in part to increase pressure on school districts that had mask mandates or other COVID-19 restrictions, saying they were hurting children and parents who had endured more than a year of school closures, remote learning and other restrictions.

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