The $1.9 million in pandemic aid would have gone a long way in Cochise County, a rural borderland where a winter of infections swamped hospitals. There was money for tracking cases. Testing in remote ranching towns. Funds fortifying the Arizona county’s strained health department.
But the county’s Republican-controlled board of supervisors stunned many residents and health care workers by voting last month to reject the federal money, becoming one of the rare places in America to turn down Covid-19 assistance from Washington.
“We’re done,” said Peggy Judd, one of two Republican supervisors who voted against accepting the money. “We’re treating it like the common cold.”
The vote transformed what would usually be a rote line on a government agenda into an emotional flashpoint in this county of 125,000 people where life is shaped by the southwestern border, rhythms of ranching and, now, a pandemic that has killed 522 residents.
To conservatives, rejecting the money felt like a high-desert declaration of independence, even if their rural county does rely on a host of other federal spending and jobs provided by the Fort Huachuca Army base.
Doctors and hospital officials, generally reluctant to plunge into divisive debates in their largely conservative county, started speaking out after they saw news of the 2-1 vote in The Herald/Review, the local newspaper. Some criticized the supervisors for reinforcing local vaccine resistance with a welter of anti-vaccine misinformation.
“It’s insanity,” said Dr. Cristian Laguillo, who has been treating a crush of Covid-19 patients at Copper Queen Community Hospital in the old copper-mining town of Bisbee. “It was a decision made without thought, without care. That’s maddening.”
More than 200 small rural towns across the country have declined pandemic funds from the Biden administration, according to a survey from the National League of Cities, representing a tiny fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars pouring into cities and states.
The Treasury Department has already sent out $245 billion to local, state and tribal governments through the American Rescue Plan. A vast majority have eagerly taken the money, including some elected Republican leaders who had opposed the measure. The money has flowed toward schools, health care systems and affordable housing, but also non-Covid projects such as prison construction, highway projects and tax cuts, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Some tiny towns say they have no use for the coronavirus relief as the pandemic trudges into a third year. And …….