WASHINGTON — Gov. On Friday, Doug Ducey from Arizona sued the Biden administration to stop its efforts to claw back pandemic aid money that the state used to reduce mask requirements in schools.
The lawsuit is the latest legal dispute between a Republican-led State and the Biden Administration over how $350 billion in local and state pandemic aid Congress allocated last Year. The lawsuit comes after a series warnings by the Treasury Department that Arizona could lose some $4.2 billion it received in the rescue package.
The funds are related to two education programs that Mr. Ducey (a Republican) established last year as a response to mask requirements that certain school districts in the state had enacted. Although the state attempted unsuccessfully to ban school mask mandates last academic year, Mr. Ducey continues to oppose any rules that would require them.
Federal money has been used by the state to help students and schools get around mandates. A federal relief program of $163 million provides up to $1800 per student to charter and public schools. Schools that require masks are not eligible.
A separate $10 million program funds vouchers worth up to $7,000 to help poor families leave districts that require face coverings or impose other Covid-related “constraints.”
The Treasury Department claims that these programs violate the intent and $1.9 trillion stimulus law of 2021. This law was designed to reduce the coronavirus and provide funds for states to maintain public services and support households and businesses harmed by the crisis.
In October, the Treasury Department sent a warning notice to Mr. Ducey. This warned that the funds being used could be recouped if Arizona didn’t stop or alter those programs. The federal government said that Arizona’s programs undermined evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 and that federal funds could not be used for those purposes.
The Treasury Department issued a second warning last Wednesday, warning that if Arizona does not stop or modify the programs within 60 day, the federal government could begin a process to recover the money it claimed was being misused. Treasury said that it could withhold the second installment of relief money Arizona is due to receive this year.
These arguments have been rejected by Mr. Ducey who, on Friday, said that the state would retaliate.
“The Biden administration is attempting to hold congressionally appropriated funds hostage and is trying to bully Arizona into complying with this power-grabbing move,” Mr. Ducey said. “They’re going after education programs that are designed to help kids access in-person instruction, ensure schools stay open and give parents the ability to make decisions that are best for their kids.”
Arizona’s attorney general, Mark Brnovich, sent Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen a letter this week suggesting that the state was preparing to take its concerns to court amid what he believed was “blatant federal encroachment.”
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Information
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court. It alleges that the Treasury Department is abusing their discretion to determine how states spend pandemic aid. It accuses the Treasury Department of acting “arbitrarily and capriciously” in determining that stopping the spread of the coronavirus is a condition for using the relief funds. It claims that the Treasury Department doesn’t have the expertise necessary to make public health pronouncements.
Congress approved the state- and local relief funds as part of the American Rescue Plan in March. Republicans opposed the law. However, Republicans have used the money in the country to fund state coffers and try to enact conservative policy.
The law gave the Treasury Department broad authority to set rules for how the money is spent and prevent it from being misused.
Friday’s defense by the Treasury Department of its decision to limit the use relief funds was defended by the Department.
“Treasury believes the rule is correct and allowed by the statute and Constitution,” Dayanara Ramirez, a Treasury spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Many Republican-led States have already sued Biden over a provision of the law that states can’t use relief funds to subsidize taxes cuts.
Similar arguments were made by Mr. Ducey on Friday regarding attempts to end his education programs.
“Unconstitutional overreach by one branch of government over another’s directive should not and cannot get in the way of that,” he said.
Source: NY Times