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A Michigan National Guard soldier administers a free COVID-19 test to a resident of Baldwin, Mich., on August 14, 2020.
A Michigan National Guard soldier administers a free COVID-19 test to a resident of Baldwin, Mich., on August 14, 2020. (Tegan Kucera/Michigan National Guard)

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WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of 18 senators urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to restore federal funding for the National Guard’s coronavirus mission after cutting support by 25% to most states.

“Restoring the 100% federal cost-share for all National Guard units will allow it to continue to execute the numerous tasks required for our nation’s response to the threat [coronavirus] posts,” according to a letter from the Senate National Guard Caucus to Trump. “The new determination to reduce the federal cost-share comes at a time when there is still significant need across the country.”

The request comes two weeks after House Democrats introduced a bill that would fully fund the National Guard’s response to the pandemic as roughly 18,500 troops are still deployed across the country.

In March, the National Guard was called up to help mitigate the spread and the secondary effects of the virus through state missions such as operating testing sites, assisting food banks, and manning call centers for health concerns and unemployment offices. As the pandemic escalated, Trump authorized the use of federal funds for the troops, but through state-by-state memos instead of a blanket approval.

In August, Trump extended the National Guard coronavirus mission until the end of the year, but ordered most states to start paying 25% of the cost — potentially millions of dollars per month as states grapple with stretched budgets hit hard by the pandemic.

However, Trump did direct the federal government to continue covering all Guard costs through the rest of the year for Texas and Florida. However, he has since ordered Connecticut, Arizona and California to get 100% funding through Sept. 30. It is unclear what motivated the White House to change funding levels state by state.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who introduced the bill to fully back the Guard’s mission with federal funding, warned shifting 25% of the cost to the states could lead to cutting back on recovery efforts because of strained budgets.

“In the middle of a pandemic, this administration decided to play political games and give preferential treatment to some states over others. Without providing any public health or economic justifications, it has burdened some cash-strapped states with a bill while exempting others – even though the [coronavirus] pandemic has wreaked havoc on every budget."

The National Governors Association demanded in a letter to Trump that the administration provide 100% of the cost of the Guard deployments for the rest of the year.

“States and territories are concerned about the new 25% financial burden during a recession that they are required to shoulder while also executing unprecedented responsibility to protect the public health and well-being of constituents,” the group wrote.

This has been one of the busiest years in the National Guard’s history, with the force tackling multiple domestic and overseas missions simultaneously. As of Wednesday, there are more than 33,100 Guard members supporting domestic missions, which includes 2,100 troops at the U.S.-Mexico border, 530 soldiers supporting law enforcement amid ongoing protests against police brutality, 1,100 troops responding to wildfires on the West Coast, and 3,100 responding to Hurricane Laura, according to Master Sgt. Michael Houk, a Guard spokesman.

On top of domestic crises, more than 28,900 Air and Army Guard troops are supporting missions overseas including in Afghanistan and the horn of Africa. In total, more than 62,700 Guard members are deployed globally.

Beynon.Steven@Stripes.com Twitter: @StevenBeynon

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