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Pima County waiting on millions from state to help cover cost of COVID-19 testing

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TUCSON (KVOA) - On Feb. 19, the Arizona Department of Health Services said it would send more than $14 million to Pima County to help defray the costs of the coronavirus testing.

That money is part of a $100 million package to be sent to Arizona's 15 counties to aid in covering the expenses of COVID-19 testing.

Tuesday afternoon, county leaders said they have yet to see any of that money.

"It is really hard to find words for that, but it is the opposite of helpful," Pima County Supervisor and emergency room physician Matt Heinz said. "I find it unconscionable."

At Tuesday's board meeting, Heinz suggested the county suspend Coronavirus testing until the state of Arizona sends the county millions. 

"I do not want to stop testing at all," Heinz said. 

However, Heinz argues the county has little choice. He said the county has spent $12 million this year on testing alone. 

"Zero of those dollars have been reimbursed by the state," Heinz said. "There are funds from the Feds that are there. $400 million to help us pay for that and the state refuses to send those funds down even though in a press release a couple weeks ago, they said that they would. "

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry argues the county needs to get more than $14.3 million in order to cover any future testing costs.

If that number is not higher, Huckelberry believes the county will be faced with a very tough decision. 

"If we're only going to be allocated $14 million, it's been spent and therefore we should stop testing even though testing is one of the most important aspects to continue during a pandemic," Huckelberry said. "We have to make the hard decision that says either discontinue funding or start taking funding from all other county programs." 

Huckelberry said the county funding for COVID-19 testing runs out March 16.

He said he planned to write a letter Tuesday to Arizona Health Director Cara Christ asking the whereabouts of the money.

A spokesperson with AZDHS told News 4 Tucson, as county budgets and work plans are sent to the state and reviewed, it will disperse the money.

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Eric Fink

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