Judge: Ducey wrong to hold back funds from schools with mask requirements

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By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services 

Gov. Doug Ducey cannot deny COVID relief dollars to schools that impose mask mandates or give vouchers to parents so they can remove their children from those schools, a federal judge has concluded.

In a new ruling, Judge Steven Logan rejected the governor’s argument that there is nothing in federal law that requires him to spend money from the American Rescue Plan Act only in ways that the federal agency and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen say conform with ways the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control say will fight the virus.

And the judge had no more sympathy for the governor’s argument that the rules the Treasury wrote for use of the dollars exceeded the agency’s authority.

The immediate effects of the ruling are unclear.

In a January letter, Kathleen Victorino, the deputy chief compliance officer of the U.S. Treasury Office of Recovery Programs, warned that it is illegal for Ducey to dole out the cash Arizona is getting from the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund only to public schools that do not mandate that students and staff wear face coverings. More to the point, Victorino said if Ducey did not rescind his policies the state faced having to forfeit the cash.

It was that letter that led Ducey to take the preemptive action of filing suit to block any funds from being withheld — the lawsuit that Logan decided in favor of Yellen and the Treasury.

But Ducey press aide C.J. Karamargin said Arizona actually received its second payment of ARPA cash of about $2.1 billion last month.

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