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WASHINGTON – In a joint new release issued this morning, the Treasury Department and the Department of Interior announced plans to distribute a portion of the $8 billion in emergency relief funds set aside for tribal governments as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

The release of the funds comes nine days after the April 26 deadline date set by Congress and the President. There was no official reason given for the delay.

The funds are set to be released on the same day President Donald Trump is to participate in a Native American town hall on the Honeywell campus, outside Phoenix. 

“We are pleased to begin making $4.8 billion in critical funds available to Tribal governments in all states,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the news release. 

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt voiced his appreciation for Mnuchin’s effort to deliver the funds “promptly” to tribes, ignoring the missed deadline.  

“I appreciate the Secretary of the Treasury’s determination in providing a clear pathway to get these resources promptly delivered,” Secretary Bernhardt said.

The funds were held up after more than a dozen tribes protested Treasury’s decision that for-profit Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) were eligible to receive funds that members of Congress intended for tribes, not ANCs.

A federal district judge ruled last Monday, April 27, that ANCs should not be deemed eligible to receive the CARES Act funds.

The plan to distribute the funds as announced today will be:

  •   Distribute 60 percent of the $8 billion to Tribes based on population data used in the distribution of the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG), subject to a floor of $100,000.  This data is based on U.S. Census figures and is already familiar to Tribal governments. 
  •   Distribute the remaining 40 percent of the $8 billion based on the total number of persons employed by the Indian tribe and any tribally-owned entity, and further data to be collected related to the amount of higher expenses faced by the tribe in the fight against COVID-19. 
  •   Payment to Tribes will begin today based on the population allocation, and will take place over several banking days.  Amounts calculated for Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act regional and village corporations will be held back until pending litigation relating to their eligibility is resolved. 
  •   Payments to tribes based on employment and expenditure data will be made at a later date. Treasury will work with Tribes to confirm employment numbers and seek additional information regarding higher expenses due to the public health emergency.

Treasury notes that the pending litigation has introduced additional uncertainty into the process of implementing the allocation and making payments to the Tribes, but the Treasury is endeavoring to make payments of the remaining amounts as promptly as possible consistent with the Department’s obligation to ensure that allocations are made in a fair and appropriate manner.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day. 

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Levi Rickert
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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]