PHOENIX - When the COVID-19 pandemic first gripped Arizona, the National Guard filled in the gaps by packing grocery shelves, conducting testing, and helping food banks stay open.
Months later, much of the work continues despite Federal funding of their mission coming to an end in a matter of days, and the National Guard is shifting to using state dollars for the operation.
Currently, it is unclear how much exactly the operation will cost Arizona, because it is not known if the federal money will be extended. Either way, the National Guard will continue to operate in the state, no matter where the money comes from.
Guards providing relief for local organizations
On the morning of July 31, a few dozen men and women were at United Food Bank distribution, and their presence was vitally important to the thousands of people who needed food.
"We weren’t sure if we were going to have them or not, so we were really grateful their mission was extended," said Dave Richins with United Food Bank.
The Arizona National Guards' daily help at around 20 food banks in the state was in question, as the Trump Administration has yet to extend funding for their mission. Governor Doug Ducey has requested the extension, but announced on July 30 that the state would still extend the mission without the federal help and money.
Extended mission likely to cost millions
Arizona National Guard's Adjutant General, Major General Mick McGuire, said it will likely cost a few million dollars to extend the rest of the year.
"Certainly It will cost us something more than it would otherwise if we got federal funding, but we’re committed, and Governor Ducey, as Commander-In-Chief of the guard at rest, has the ability to put us at state active duty whenever he liked," said Maj. Gen. McGuire.
The 1,000 servicemen will still be out at food banks, testing sites and tribal lands, doing what they do to help, but now under state money. That’s a big relief for the United Food Bank.
"We were worried," said Richins. "They’re here consistently, so having that consistency, we're able to plan around that. When there’s so much other uncertainties, having that consistency is a big deal for us."
FOX 10 has reached out to the Governor's Office for comment, but officials have yet to respond. Meanwhile, officials with the food bank say the timing is crucial, because they say demand could rise even more as the $600 unemployment bumps come to an end.