The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe owns and operates the Royal River Casino and Hotel in Flandreau, South Dakota. Photo: Royal River Casino and Hotel

Tribes sue Trump administration after being excluded from coronavirus relief program

Three Indian nations whose businesses were excluded from the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) filed suit against the Trump administration on April 23, 2020.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, the Santee Sioux Nation and the Big Sandy Band of Western Mono Indians applied for PPP loans after Congress provided $349 billion to help small businesses make it through the coronavirus crisis. But they say the Small Business Administration prevented their gaming operations and lending enterprises from benefiting.

"The tribes seek to immediately enjoin the enforcement of the no-casino rule and the no-lender rule so that such rules will not prevent the tribes from obtaining PPP loans to pay the employees of all their eligible tribal businesses and meet other financial obligations of the tribal businesses while such businesses are closed or in limited operation to protect the public health during the Covid-19 pandemic," the amended complaint, dated April 24, reads.

The Trump administration has since issued new guidelines to ensure small tribal gaming operations qualify for PPP-backed loans. The interim final rule, however, does not appear to address online lenders operated by tribes.

"The PPP would provide the Flandreau Tribal Businesses $1,321,785 to supplement employees’ income and ensure that they can meet their basic needs during this pandemic, while allowing the Tribal Businesses to survive in complete shutdown," the complaint says in reference to the lending enterprises at Flandreau.

The tribes on April 23 sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the Trump administration but the request was denied the next day for procedural issues, not on the merits.

That same day, President Donald Trump signed H.R.6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, into law. The package provides another $320 billion for the PPP, following the exhaustion of the original $349 billion in just 14 days.

The $349 billion had been provided by H.R.748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The law is commonly known as the CARES Act.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe v. Carranza. The named defendants are Jovita Carranza, the Administrator of the SBA, and Secretary Steven Mnuchin of the Department of the Treasury.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Santee Sioux Nation are based in South Dakota. The Big Sandy Band is based in California.

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