In the address on Tuesday evening, Lizer credited Trump for signing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, into law. But Begaye pointed out that the Navajo Nation, along with other tribes, had to sue the president's administration in order to ensure they received the funds promised to their governments. "We didn’t receive critical CARES Act funding until after we went to court, and many Navajo people still lost their lives and jobs," said Begaye, who served in Vietnam. With the CARES Act, Congress imposed a 30-day deadline on the executive branch to distribute $8 billion in COVID-19 relief to tribes. But an initial payment, besides being late, was released only because Trump wanted a photo-op for a meeting with Lizer in Arizona in early May, a White House official later disclosed. "He absolutely wanted to be there to award money to the Native American community," said Kellyanne Conway, who serves as Counselor to Trump but will be leaving the White House at the end of the month.
#FactCheck 8B was result of CARES Act funding that Congress allocated to Tribal Nations. Tribes had to sue Trump for its release 80 days later. Meanwhile the Navajo Nation had the highest infection rate per capita with deaths that could have been prevented if aid arrived sooner. pic.twitter.com/z4oilnxLS6— Samantha Eldridge (@DCSamantha) August 26, 2020
A second COVID-19 payment to tribes was also late. While some Republicans have attempted to blame litigation for the delays, the Trump administration -- more than once -- admitted it was having trouble coming up with a way to distribute the $8 billion. "We engaged in litigation because it was the right thing to do," Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. of the Cherokee Nation told Indianz.Com. The Cherokee Nation was part of a case which finally forced the Department of the Treasury to disburse the coronavirus relief fund once and for all, after the agency attempted to withhold even more money from Indian Country. Hoskin characterized the litigation -- at least eight lawsuits have been filed over Trump's handling of the CARES Act in Indian Country -- as a way for tribes to hold the U.S. accountable to its trust and treaty obligations. "The U.S. government should have made good quicker on the funds that were owed, instead of having us argue in front of the judge of when the payments would go out," Hoskin told Indianz.Com. The Navajo Nation is part of another CARES Act case that arose when the Trump administration decided to share the $8 billion fund with Alaska Native corporations. Tribal leaders have repeatedly pointed out that a senior official who played a role in making that determination is a former high-ranking executive at one of the for-profit entities. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, who was named to her position by Donald Trump, has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the debacle. Incidentally, she's been in her home state of Alaska all week, opening a so-called "cold case" office for missing and murdered Native Americans in Anchorage, where her Native corporation maintains a large building of its own. "They saved some of this money for the Alaska Native corporations," President Jonathan Nez, who addressed the Democratic National Convention last week, said during a recent COVID-19 town hall for Navajo citizens. "You know we are opposed to that." "They put some of those monies aside just in case the litigation favors the Alaska Native corporations," Nez added.
Here’s the truth: the Trump White House and Senate Republican leaders wanted to give Tribes $0 in the CARES Act. Thankfully, the GOP didn't prevail--because we fought back.— Tom Udall (@SenatorTomUdall) August 26, 2020
The lawsuit is ongoing, with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals set to hear arguments on September 11. The Trump administration is saving about $543 million for the Native corporations in Alaska, money they are counting on to help their shareholders and their people address the impacts of the coronavirus, especially those in remote and hard-to-reach areas of the largest state. “Alaska Native corporations are doing all they can to meet the desperate needs of their communities as COVID-19 continues to spread," Kim Reitmeier, the executive director of the ANCSA Regional Association, told Indianz.Com. "Providing health services and basic necessities to our people is no small feat when one considers Alaska’s challenging geography and weather conditions." "Each day that we wait for the September 11 hearing is another day our communities go without the funds that they desperately need -- and which are rightfully theirs -- to strengthen and protect against COVID-19,” Reitmeier asserted.
Alaska Native corporations will continue to wait for more than a half-billion dollars in #COVID19 relief as a bitter legal dispute involving tribal nations heads to a higher court. #Coronavirus #CARESAct #CoronavirusReliefFund https://t.co/nOeVazbvYA— indianz.com (@indianz) July 9, 2020
Trump's handling of the pandemic has been a major focus of Biden's campaign, with Democrats devoting a significant portion of their convention last week to critiques of the president. But other than Lizer's remarks on Tuesday night, the Republicans have avoided talking too much about COVID-19, choosing instead to prioritize issues like beefing up law enforcement, placing restraints on the mainstream media and strengthening the U.S. military. The disconnect between the rival campaigns helps explain Biden's decision to call out Lizer in such a high-profile fashion. Historically, Indian issues haven't had much of a role in presidential races but with Republican-leaning states like Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, with their large Native American populations, in play this November, every vote is up for grabs. "We know that Donald Trump isn’t on our side, and we will be proud to support Joe Biden this fall as our next president because he will uphold the U.S.’s trust and treaty obligations -- including to provide health services to Native Americans -- and help foster tribal sovereignty and prosperity," Glenmore Begaye said on Wednesday night.
Trump minimized the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 27, 2020
He muzzled public health experts.
And misled the American people.
Now we’re all paying the price for his failed leadership.
Thumbnail photo of Navajo Code Talker Memorial in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, by Ron Cogswell
Getting time at both political conventions when Native Americans usually get no time at either, seems like they know what they’re doing on that “playing both sides in Washington” angle.— Brett Chapman (@brettachapman) August 27, 2020
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