Joe Biden’s Treasury Department wants COVID-19 funding back from Arizona because the state is sending money to districts that don’t have mask mandates — and the state’s Republican governor is taking them to court over it.
According to The Arizona Republic, Gov. Doug Ducey filed a lawsuit against the administration on Friday, alleging it was trying to “bully Arizona” into adopting Democrat-endorsed COVID policies by threatening to withhold or claw back money allocated under the American Rescue Plan.
The Biden administration using the power of the purse to punish states over masking in schools is a new low in the social tug-of-war over COVID policy, particularly since there’s little demonstrated benefit to the policies and considerable psychological costs. (Here at The Western Journal, we’ve been making readers aware of these facts since the beginning of the pandemic. You can help us continue to bring readers the truth by subscribing.)
In a Jan. 14 letter, the Treasury Department said Arizona’s $163 million Education Plus-Up Grant Program and its COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Program undermined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on reducing COVID transmission, according to The Hill.
The former program only funnels funds to schools without mask mandates, while the Educational Recovery Benefit Program provides up to $7,000-a-student payouts to parents whose children are in schools that have imposed “unnecessary closures and school mandates.”
The Treasury Department said in the letter that the funds allocated to Arizona under the American Rescue Plan were intended “to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the COVID-19 public health emergency, including by supporting efforts to stop the spread of the virus” and that the money must be used for programs that, in the administration’s view, don’t undermine efforts to prevent COVID transmission.
The Treasury Department gave Arizona 60 days to come into compliance and redirect the funds, warning that if they didn’t do so, they’d try to claw back the money and withhold further aid.
Ducey blasted the move on Twitter, calling it “the latest example of a President that is completely out of touch with the American people” and saying the administration was “attempting to rewrite rules around public dollars that will result in LESS funding to schools and kids — particularly in low-income communities.”
“When it comes to education, President Biden wants to continue focusing on masks. In Arizona, we’re going to focus on math and getting kids caught up after a year of learning loss,” Ducey said. “We will respond to this letter, and we will continue to focus on things that matter to Arizonans.”
That response came Friday, when Arizona filed suit against the Biden administration over the threat to revoke funding.
“Treasury’s actions far exceed the statutory authority granted to it under” the American Rescue Plan Act, the lawsuit read, according to The Hill.
The lawsuit states Ducey used money from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, or SLFRF, “to create two grant programs that addressed the long-term, negative economic impacts on disadvantaged communities from school closures and overbearing mask mandates. The programs empower parents and students to exercise their freedom to make informed decisions regarding their health and educational needs.”
Furthermore, the Treasury Department had previously noted states had, to quote their own guidance, “broad latitude to choose whether and how to use the [SLFRF funds] to respond to and address the negative economic impact” caused by COVID-19.
Ducey’s lawsuit said, “Treasury arbitrarily changed its guidance, and through a clear abuse of discretion, is seeking to unilaterally amend [the American Rescue Plan] by adding new health conditions on how SLFRF monies may be used.
“In particular, and even though Treasury has no background expertise in public health, Treasury recently issued a Final Rule that purports to prohibit SLFRF monies from being used in a manner that, in the subjective and ill-informed opinion of Treasury, would undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Furthermore, even if the Treasury were in a position to make bad public health judgments, the American Rescue Plan doesn’t authorize that, the suit alleges: “Nothing in that underlying statute authorizes Treasury to condition the use of SLFRF monies on following measures that, in the view of Treasury, stop the spread of COVID-19.”
“If Congress had truly intended to give Treasury the power to dictate public health edicts to the States, and recoup or withhold SLFRF monies based on an alleged lack of compliance with such edicts, it would have spoken clearly on the matter. It did not.”
Ducey, meanwhile, said in a statement that, “The Biden administration is attempting to hold congressionally-appropriated funds hostage and is trying to bully Arizona into complying with this power-grabbing move.”
A Treasury Department spokeswoman said the administration “believes the rule is correct and allowed by the statute and Constitution,” setting up a battle in court, according to The New York Times.
No matter how that ends legally, it’ll put the Biden administration in the uncomfortable position of defending policies that don’t “follow the science,” to use an execrable idiom.
Masking in schools hasn’t proved efficacious, no matter what the administration chooses to believe.
Meanwhile, school closures and mask-wearing have proved to be detrimental to both learning and mental health.
Gov. Ducey introduced two programs to combat it — and, because it doesn’t follow the administration’s dogmatic views regarding COVID, they want to take money away from Arizona. If this doesn’t tell you the battle is about politics and not public health, I don’t know what will.