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Judge launches Arizona lawsuit over virus relief fund limits


PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has dismissed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s demands that the state stop sending millions of federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don’t have no mask requirements or are closing due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The state filed a lawsuit earlier this year after the US Treasury Department asked Ducey to restructure the $163 million program to remove restrictions it says undermine public health recommendations or make when faced with a refund request.

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

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

While Ducey claimed the American Rescue Plan Act was unclear in the conditions it placed on the use of relief money, the judge agreed with the Biden administration’s argument that authorized uses of funds under the law – and its authorization for the Treasury Department to issue appropriate regulations – inform the state of the conditions associated with accepting the money.

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

The lawsuit said the Treasury Department created spending restrictions on money Arizona receives under the American Rescue Plan Act on its own initiative and without legal authority. He asked a court to declare the Treasury Department’s rules illegal and to permanently block the application and any claim for reimbursement of money spent on the two programs.

The Treasury Department began requiring Ducey to modify the programs in October. It was part of a concerted effort to force Arizona and some other Republican-led states that opposed mask mandates or used pandemic funding to advance their own agendas to end such practices.

Ducey denied the Treasury’s request the following month, and the Biden administration followed with a formal request to stop using the money for the disputed programs or face refund demands or the withholding of money. supplement he is expected to receive under Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill. .

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

Arizona’s Education Plus-Up grant program provides $163 million in funding to schools in high-income areas that received less than $1,800 per student in federal virus relief. Districts that require face coverings or have closed due to virus outbreaks are not eligible.

Another called the COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit 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 education costs, and its design mirrors 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 closures. schools, distance learning and other restrictions.

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