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Native Sun News Today: Tribal lawsuits force government to turn over 60 percent of Covid-19 money

WASHINGTON – After dozens of tribal governments sued the U.S. Treasury Department for withholding Covid-19 pandemic relief money that Congress allotted them seven weeks back, the federal executive branch announced on May 5 that it is releasing 60 percent of the $8 billion set-aside.

“Payment to tribes will begin today based on the population allocation, and will take place over several banking days,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a joint statement.

The $8 billion was the sliver of an overall $150 billion assigned to tribal, state, local and territorial governments in the CARES Act, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, signed into law on March 27, by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Congress had mandated the emergency funding release by no later than April 27. However, while all the rest of the CARES Act beneficiary governments were enjoying their relief provided in a timely fashion, the tribes found it necessary to file two lawsuits against Secretary Mnuchin to obtain even a fraction of their share after the deadline.

Following the second tribal governments’ lawsuit, which called on April 30 for a full payout in 24 hours, the Presidential Cabinet leaders took five days to announce that the 60-percent distribution would happen over an unspecified number of days more.

“We are pleased to begin making $4.8 billion in critical funds available to tribal governments in all states,” Secretary Mnuchin said.

“Thanks to President Trump and Secretary Mnuchin for working with Congress to pass the CARES Act as historic financial support will now begin to be disbursed to Native Americans battling the Covid-19 health crisis,” said Secretary Bernhardt.

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

The first of the tribal governments’ complaints over the withheld funding arose from Interior Department Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney’s advice to the Treasury Department to channel about half of the tribal government CARES Act budget to for-profit Alaska Native Corporations.

A statue of Albert Gallatin, the 4th United States Secretary of the Treasury stands on the north side of the Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C. Gallatin studied tribal nations and was a personal friend of Cherokee leader John Ridge. His work on Native languages has led some to call him "the father of American ethnology." Photo: dog97209

The complaint resulted in a preliminary federal court injunction responding favorably to plaintiffs with a ruling that “no Alaska Native Corporation is eligible for any share of the $8 billion allocated by Congress for tribal governments,” because the ANCs are for-profit businesses.

Sweeney is an Alaska Native, former employee and lobbyist of the largest of the 13 Alaska Native Corporations, and a current stockholder.

She did not disclose that her husband Kevin Sweeney is a registered lobbyist for Bristol Bay Native Corporation, which was among the first companies to apply for CARES Act funding intended for tribal governments, according to the non-profit Western Values Project.


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