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WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request by the Shawnee Tribe that would have forced the Treasury Department to hold onto $12 million in relief funding for the tribe. The tribe had argued that it was due that amount under Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.

In a legal opinion issued yesterday, Judge Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction, saying the tribe’s argument was “no better” than a similar legal action filed by the Prairie Band Potawatomi that he ruled against in June.

Both tribal lawsuits hinged on the Treasury’s use of Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) data rather than tribal population data when it allocated the CARES Act relief funding for tribal governments. The IHBG program is operated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The use of IHBG data caused the Treasury to “grossly undercount” the Shawnee Tribe’s population by nearly 98 percent, according to its lawsuit filed in Oklahoma back in June. The lawsuit was later moved to federal district court in Washington D.C., where Judge Mehta was handling several other lawsuits related to CARES Act funding for tribal governments.  

Judge Mehta was not swayed by the argument, writing in his opinion: "The secretary's selection of the HUD tribal population data set, however imperfect it may be, is a discretionary agency action that is not subject to judicial review." 

Mehta wrote that Congress gave Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin broad discretion when it came to allocating the Title V relief funds to tribal governments. 

“Far from cabining the Secretary’s discretion, Congress codified it. So, the Secretary’s choice of the HUD data over perhaps more comprehensive, and even more accurate, tribal population statistics is not subject to judicial review,” Mehta wrote.  

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