Gov. Ducey sues Biden administration over funding tied to COVID-19 mandates and Arizona schools

By Stacey Barchenger | Arizona Republic

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, ratcheting up the political battle over the state’s use of American Rescue Plan funds for school programs that contradict public health recommendations.

In a 24-page federal complaint, Ducey’s legal team asked a judge to prevent U.S. Treasury from withholding or clawing back COVID-19 stimulus funds, as federal officials again threatened to do last week.

Ducey and the Biden administration have gone back and forth since October over two education programs the governor created that draw on $173 million in American Rescue Plan aid. The funding was tied to an Arizona law that prohibited COVID-19 mandates in schools, though that law was thrown out by a state court.

Last week, Treasury sent Ducey a second letter, more forcefully threatening to take back or withhold the same amount of federal funding if the governor does not make changes to the programs. The governor answered with a lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, by his General Counsel Anni Foster and a team of lawyers at Snell & Wilmer LLP in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the Grand Canyon State, threatening to exacerbate teacher and staff shortages and drop student attendance.

The complaint argues U.S. Treasury’s final rule dictating how states can use funding went beyond the scope of the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March.

The Ducey administration argues that the final rule, which was announced on Jan. 6 and says money cannot fund a program that “undermines efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19”, takes effect in April and cannot retroactively apply to Ducey’s programs. The lawsuit also claims the Treasury overstepped its expertise when it weighed into public health policy.

The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the entire 437-page rule that outlines how states and local governments can spend the $350 billion share of the federal stimulus law, and affirms that Ducey will not waver in his support of the programs.

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