Federal officials are escalating their threat to withhold federal stimulus dollars from Arizona over Governor Doug Ducey’s refusal to make changes to two programs that provide funding to schools that fail to implement recommended public health protocols.
In a Friday letter to Ducey’s office, a U.S. Treasury Department official warned again that the two initiatives the governor unveiled in August appeared to prevent COVID-19 mitigation protocols, and warned more strongly about the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. continue the programs as they are.
Ducey must send funding to eligible applications or make changes to the two curricula within 60 days or Treasury may begin to recoup funding, the letter said.
“Treasury may also withhold funds from the second tranche of (American Rescue Plan) funds from the State of Arizona until Treasury has received information confirming that the issues described above have been adequately addressed,” reads a letter from Deputy Chief Compliance Officer Kathleen Victorino. Arizona and other states are scheduled to receive their second installment of US bailout funds this spring, with more than $2 billion headed for Grand Canyon State.
Ducey’s two programs, the Education Restoration Benefit and the Education Plus Grant Program, provided funding to families and schools that failed to implement COVID-19-related mandates. The governor earmarked $163 million for both programs.
At the time, Arizona law banned such mandates, but the state Supreme Court has since quashed the law based on the process lawmakers used to package unrelated issues in budget accounts.
Daniel Ruiz, Ducey’s chief of staff, said the Governor’s Office “will ensure that we can support[the programs]at a financial level, and we will at every level in terms of legal proceedings review any attempt by them to retroactively change policies or regulations.” .”
Ruiz said the Governor’s Office learned about the letter through news reports and criticized a lack of communication from the Biden government.
Congressman Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., asked the US Treasury in August to review Ducey’s programs, and the federal agency responded in October by questioning the use of the funds and urging Ducey to make changes. bring. Ducey’s office responded in November by defending the programs as a way to keep low-income families from falling behind.
Treasury also questioned the Ducey administration’s position on Friday that its funding programs benefited families, but did not outline specific concerns.
In the meantime, encouraged by what they saw as a lack of response from the US Treasury Department, Ducey’s office created another program that could draw on the same funds from the US bailout plan.
The latest program launched last week and allocates $7,000 to families if they have to move their students when schools close. The program was largely a preventative effort, as schools in Arizona remain open, though they struggle with potential staff shortages as the omicron strain of the coronavirus swells in Arizona.
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