Feds flex the power of the purse to get states in line with COVID-19 restrictions

Andy Uhler Aug 23, 2021
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at Dallas's City Hall. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Feds flex the power of the purse to get states in line with COVID-19 restrictions

Andy Uhler Aug 23, 2021
Heard on:
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at Dallas's City Hall. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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Vaccine and mask mandates have been an issue in places like Florida and Texas where governors have refused to enact or enforce them. 

Now, the Biden administration has taken steps to leverage the federal government’s power to withhold funding as a means of fighting the pandemic – money for health care and possibly for education.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been steadfast in his efforts to block schools from requiring masks. But last week, the Biden Administration said it would use the power of the purse to try to compel Abbott and other governors to change course. 

“States always claim that, you know, they’re their sovereign entities and can’t be told what to do,” said Paul Helmke, who teaches public affairs at Indiana University. “But anytime they’re getting federal money, the federal government can put some restrictions on how the monies are used.”

The feds told Abbott they were monitoring whether the state’s mask mandate ban was in line with fiscal requirements attached to the $18 billion they sent Texas for public schools in COVID-19 relief.

But the federal government might have more leverage in health care, says Vivian Ho, an economist at Rice University in Houston. Medicare and Medicaid are mostly federal dollars, “but in education, most of the funding is from state taxpayer dollars. So the federal government doesn’t have as much leverage,” she said.

Biden said his administration would also make employee vaccination a condition for nursing homes to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. 

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