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Trump administration covers full Guard costs for just some states, frustrating governors

The Trump administration's decision to single out a handful of states that will not be required to pay a portion of National Guard costs amid the coronavirus pandemic has frustrated some governors who see politics at play. 

The White House formally extended federal funding and benefits for the Guard, known as Title 32 authority, on Monday after state leaders urged it to do so.

States will now be required to cover 25 percent of the costs through the end of 2020 after the federal government had for months covered 100 percent of the costs.

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There were some exceptions, however.

The White House announced Florida and Texas, two states hard hit by the coronavirus that are both led by Republican governors, would have their National Guard costs fully covered by the federal government for the rest of the year. Both states were among the first to reopen their economies after the coronavirus first shut down much of the economy.

Both states are also critical to Trump's reelection bid.

The White House on Friday extended 100 percent cost coverage for the National Guard in Arizona, California and Connecticut, but only through the end of September. The latter two are led by Democrats.

Administration officials deny that politics played a role in which states got longer funding extensions.

A senior administration official said the initial cost coverage was determined by positivity rates in each state. Since Florida and Texas had positivity rates over 5 percent, they received 100 percent cost assistance. States under 5 percent were given 75 percent coverage.

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A White House official told The Hill that states that received full coverage, even if only temporarily, did so after their governors appealed to President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE.

"The Governors of Texas and Florida made convincing cases directly to the President that a continuation of the 100% cost share through the end of the calendar year was necessary to support the Guard’s efforts in their states," the official said in a statement to The Hill.

"Since then, the governors of Arizona, California, and Connecticut made convincing cases to the President that extensions were prudent in their States," the official added.

Still, the decision to single out Florida and Texas even as other states cope with sizable COVID-19 outbreaks provoked frustration among Democratic governors in particular and raised questions about whether the White House was favoring states with Republican governors in doling out assistance.

"This is a disgrace. With American lives at risk, the president is continuing to manipulate our nation’s pandemic response to benefit his own political fortunes," Noam Lee, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a statement.

"The National Guard deployments are the latest development in the partisan games the president has played with states seeking critical supplies and aid," Lee said. "While the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between 'red' states or 'blue' states, it is disturbingly clear that our president does."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a moderate Democrat who has met with Trump at the White House, wrote to the president Friday to request his state receive 100 percent funding for the National Guard through the rest of 2020.

In the letter, Edwards noted that Louisiana has a higher case rate and death rate per capita than Texas or Florida, both of which received the full funding extension.

“The State of Louisiana remains at a critical phase of its efforts against the virus, and the support of the National Guard remains essential,” Edwards wrote.

The 25 percent of National Guard costs that states will be required to cover could pile up quickly at a time when many state and local governments are facing massive budget deficits after the pandemic wiped out revenue sources.

At a news conference earlier in the week, Edwards estimated that the 25 percent cost share required of Louisiana would amount to roughly $2.5 million per month, totaling $10 million through the end of 2020.

The White House official did not rule out that Trump could reconsider extending funding for states on a case by case basis.

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"The president is willing to speak with any governor who needs help, as he has continually proven throughout this pandemic," the official said.

Governors in both parties had pleaded with the Trump administration to extend the National Guard assistance, warning that a lapse in funding could jeopardize the pandemic response. The 100 percent cost coverage was set to expire on Aug. 21 prior to the reauthorization this week.

States have been using the National Guard to help operate testing sites, work at food banks and distribute personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

"President Trump took unprecedented action to help governors and local leaders across the country defeat the coronavirus by authorizing an extension of the National Guard under Title 32 status," assistant White House press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement. "Now, the brave men and women of the National Guard can continue their essential efforts on the ground, including assisting healthcare workers at nursing homes, facilitating the distribution of necessary supplies and community based testing, and supporting food security efforts."

The United States has had nearly 5 million people infected with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and roughly 160,000 people in the country have died from the virus.