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Only $4.8 billion of the original $8 billion will be released.

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.  The tribes sued Mnuchin, alleging that distributing funds to the shareholder-owned ANCs would reduce the amount paid to each of the 574 federally recognized tribes.

A federal district judge ruled last Monday, April 27, that ANCs should not be deemed eligible to receive the CARES Act funds. Judge Amit Mehta enjoined the Treasury Secretary from sending funds to ANCs, but did not direct Mnuchin to disburse the entire $8 billion in emergency relief funds to the federally recognized tribes.  

During a Native American town hall meeting with President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday, Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis told Trump, “Indian tribes can’t wait for that litigation to end before additional payments are made to us from the fund. If you can, please direct the Treasury to make these payments as soon as possible.” 

During a noon press conference call on Tuesday, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,  said it was never the intent of Congress that ANCs receive any of the funds directed for tribes. Tribal governments serve all of the people, not corporations, Udall said.

"It is deplorable that Treasury held up these funds. On the next day (after) the court decision, they should have released all of the $8 billion intended for tribes. Tribes need the money now. With this court case the rest of the funds could be held up for a long time. In the next round, we will make sure this does not happen again," Udall said.

A key trade association for Native finance officials acknowledged the funds would help, but called for continued vigilance to ensure Treasury releases the remaining funds quickly and fairly.

"We are thrilled to see almost $5 billion Coronavirus Relief Funds flowing out to Indian Country starting today. It is desperately needed." said Dante Desiderio, executive director of the Native American Financial Officers Association (NAFOA). "Indian Country should continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the Department of the Treasury releases the remaining funds as soon as possible and in a way that is fair and meets the intent of the legal agreement. "

Three associations that represent Alaska Native Corporations released a statement thanking the Treasury Dept. for finalizing the formula, even though ANCs were not scheduled to receive funding at this point.

The ANCSA Regional Association (ARA), the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association (ANVCA), and the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) said in a statement that they "are grateful that the Department of Treasury has finalized a formula for the distribution of CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding to tribes. We are pleased that this historic relief fund is being distributed to help indigenous people across our nation respond to this global pandemic. We want to thank the administration, Congress and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation for driving this support to Indian Country throughout the United States. We look forward to the final determination on what benefits will be available to Alaska Native people. We remain dedicated to continuing our work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, respond to the devastating impacts on our people and our health system, and recover our economies."

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 story has been updated to include statements from NAFOA, ARA, ANVCA and AFN. 

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