Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > CARES Act Litigation
Posted: May 1, 2020

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin speaks with members of the press Friday, March 13, 2020, outside of the West Wing of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Keegan Barber)

The plaintiffs in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin have filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and emergency writ of mandamus.

The motion seeks the “immediate” distribution of the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund promised to tribal governments. The Trump administration has yet to make any payments to Indian Country despite being charged by the CARES Act to do so more than a month ago.

“Defendant’s continuing, unreasonable delay in performing his clear duty has caused and is continuing to cause irreparable harm to Plaintiffs that can only be remedied by the immediate entry of the requested relief,” the May 1, 2020, motion reads.

The motion was accompanied by declarations from the six Indian nations that filed the lawsuit on April 30, 2020. The plaintiffs are the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (California), the Ak-Chin Indian Community (Arizona), the Northern Arapaho Tribe (Wyoming), the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma), the Snoqualmie Tribe (Washington) and the Yurok Tribe (California).

“If Agua Caliente does not receive the emergency relief funding provided by the CARES Act immediately, it will be forced to curtail essential government services and lay off or furlough the overwhelming majority of employees,” John T. Plata, the tribe’s general counsel, states in his affidavit.

“In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Community has declared a State of Emergency,” Chairman Robert Miguel says in his declaration to the court. “It has placed all non-essential employees on administrative leave and closed nearly all commercial enterprises. The closure of these enterprises has eliminated the Community’s sources of governmental revenue for essential governmental services and employee salaries.”

The Northern Arapaho Tribe highlighted the significant toll the coronavirus is taking on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Four citizens — including two elders — have succumbed to COVID-19.

“As of April 29, 2020, the tribe has conducted over 2,900 COVID-19 tests and have confirmed 74 positive cases on the reservation, and we have lost four of our precious tribal citizens,” Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ortiz tells the court.

“Without the relief dollars allocated by Congress in the CARES Act, the Nation’s ability to serve its citizens will become increasingly limited every day,” Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., of the Cherokee Nation says in his affidavit. “It may also lead to furloughs or lay-offs that would otherwise have been avoided. Any lay-offs or furloughs would have substantial impact on health and welfare.”

“As of April 29, 2020, there are 6182 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 436 related deaths in King County, Washington,” Chairman Robert M. De Los Angeles of the Snoqualmie Tribe tells the court. “The reservation is approximately 17 miles from Kirkland, Washington, which was the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.”

“Together, the increased costs of responding to the COVID-19 emergency and the business and government program losses are threatening the Yurok Tribe’s ability to function,” Chairman Joseph L. James asserts in his declaration. “If the tribe does not receive CARES Act, Title V funding in the very near future, the tribe will be forced to reduce and curtail essential emergency related government services putting the health and safety of tribal and community members at risk.”

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