- By Levi Rickert
WASHINGTON — As of Wednesday night, the U.S. Department of Treasury has not released any of the $8 billion allocated to tribes in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds that were to be distributed to American Indian tribes “not later than 30 days” after March 26, 2020.
Three days later after the deadline, the tribes are still waiting for the much needed funds and the Treasury Department is not answering why they have not disbursed the money.
Tribes across Indian Country are hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused the shuttering of tribal casinos and huge reduction in revenue from tribal business enterprises.
On Wednesday, eight members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to prompt the federal government to fulfill it trust obligations to the tribes by requesting the Treasury Department to immediately disburse the funds to tribal governments.
“The Congressional intent behind the CRF is to expedite relief funds to governments, including sovereign tribal governments, as part of the federal government’s larger initiative to provide emergency assistance throughout the country,” the members of Congress wrote. “As you are aware, the CARES Act was passed over a month ago, on March 27,2020, yet this funding has yet to be disbursed to tribal governments, in part due to litigation aimed at ensuring these resources go to the governmental entities that Congress intended.”
The litigation refers to lawsuits brought by more than a dozen other federally recognized tribes to declare Alaska Native Corporations ineligible to receive any of the CARES Act’s $8 billion. The case was argued last Friday before U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta in the District of Columbia Court, who ruled in favor the tribes on Monday.
During last Friday’s hearing, a Treasury Department attorney told Judge Mehta funds would be disbursed on Tuesday, which did not happen.
“Further postponement in disbursing these funds is unnecessary and works against the federal government’s trust responsibility to the 574 federally recognized tribal nations in the United States,” the letter concludes.
The letter was signed by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ).
The Treasury Department has been mum as to when the funds will be distributed. Native News Online has sent numerous emails inquiring about when the funds will be disbursed and has not received a response by press time.
More Stories Like ThisPHOTOS: The White House Tribal Nations Summit
WATCH: The White House Tribal Nations Summit
Tribal Leaders to Attend First In-person White House Tribal Nations Summit in Six Years
Tribal Business News Round Up: Nov. 28
Seven U.S. Senators Ask President to Release Leonard Peltier
You’re reading the first draft of history.
November is Native American Heritage Month in the United States. We feel like every month — and every day — is a reason for celebrating Native Americans and our heritage. That’s what we try to do here at Native News Online, with stories each day that celebrate, inform and uplift American Indian and Alaska Native people. Over the past year or so, we have been especially busy with three important reporting projects that are having an impact across Indian Country:
- Indian Boarding Schools. We’ve reported and published more than 150 stories and special live stream video events to help shine a light on the dark era of boarding schools — and help create momentum for change.
- Native Health Desk. Launched in January, this reporting initiative was created to heighten awareness of Native American health inequities and spotlight pockets of progress in Indian Country. So far we’ve reported and published nearly 120 stories and launched a monthly health newsletter that reaches more than 23,000 readers.
- Native Bidaske. In March, we launched this live stream interview program to highlight the work of Native Americans who are making news and leading change in Indian Country. We have hosted guests from the federal government and Native rights advocates as well as Indigenous actors, comedians, journalists and models.
We hope you will join us in celebrating Native American heritage and history this November and invite you to consider the old adage that “Journalism is the first draft of history.” If you appreciate the voice Native News Online gives to Native American people, we hope you will support our work with a donation so we can build our newsroom and continue to amplify Native voices and Native perspectives.
Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked. Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10. Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news.
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.