Arizona defies demand it stop using COVID-19 relief money for anti-mask schools

Arizona defies demand it stop using COVID-19 relief money for anti-mask schools
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Arizona Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceySome in GOP begin testing party's lockstep loyalty to Trump Trump slams Biden, voices unsubstantiated election fraud claims at first rally of 2022 Trump to make election claims center stage in Arizona MORE (R) is pressing forward with using federal coronavirus relief funding for grant programs that exclusively go to schools that do not have mask mandates, The Associated Press reported on Friday.

The AP reports Ducey is also providing private school vouchers to parents who object to schools' mask or quarantine requirements, ignoring Treasury Department demands on how the money can be spent.

State grants and federal resources Team Manager Jason Mistlebauer said in a Thursday letter to the Treasury that “in Arizona, disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of overbearing measures and the state wants to ensure that low-income students are not disproportionately affected by mask mandates rules and school closures."

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The $163 million grant program Ducey created, however, reportedly goes to schools in high-income areas — but only if they do not mandate masks. And the private school vouchers are available to families making up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, the AP reports.

Ducey's ban on mask mandates in schools has been overturned by the courts, but the governor has reportedly sought multiple ways to pressure those that keep them.

"Parents are in the driver's seat, and it's their right to make decisions that best fit the needs of their children. Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged — mandates that place more stress on students and families aren't," he said in a statement back in August when he doubled down on his anti-mask-mandate stance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that students and teachers all mask up while in classrooms amid the spread of the delta variant, and health officials have reported that schools that do not issue mask mandates have significantly higher rates of COVID-19.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally AdeyemoWally AdeyemoBiden administration eases restrictions on aid to Afghanistan White House sanctions dozens accused of human rights abuses, including China, Russia Treasury redirecting rental assistance funds to address backlogs MORE said in a letter obtained by the AP that Arizona's actions “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19," asking it to explain within 30 days how it will "remediate" the problem.

Treasury has reportedly said in general that grant programs are not an appropriate use of federal coronavirus relief funds.