Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > CARES Act Lawsuit: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin
Posted: June 11, 2020

The Trump administration filed a response in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin on June 10, 2020.

According to the filing, the Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin has been “working diligently” to distribute the money remaining in the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund to tribes. As a result, government attorney say there is no need for a federal judge to take action in the case.

“Plaintiffs have been aware of the work performed by Defendant during this period as well as the expected timing for payments,” the response reads. “Yet Plaintiffs did not deem it necessary to renew their motion until Defendant indicated that the expected schedule would be delayed by approximately seven days, due to problems in the submission process. However, aside from maligning the efforts of the Defendant in a footnote, Plaintiffs have not even attempted to demonstrate, by new evidence or otherwise, how this additional delay irreparably harms them, or why the agency’s efforts to provide additional time for submissions is unreasonable.”

The filing was accompanied by an affidavit from Daniel Kowalski, who serves as Counselor to Secretary Mnuchin. He said the Department of the Treasury has worked “long hours, including nights and weekends” to develop a method to distribute the $3.2 billion left in the COVID-19 relief fund. The efforts were complicated by “missing or incomplete information” submitted by tribes, he asserted.

“Treasury staff has worked long hours, including nights and weekends, to respond to questions from Tribes, create and post a second request for information, conduct follow up and outreach to collect missing or incomplete information from Tribes, correct and verify data received, and develop an allocation formula for the remaining 40 percent to be distributed, all in a concerted effort to make payments to Tribal governments starting this Friday, June 12,” Kowalski states in the sworn declaration.

“Treasury’s efforts resulted in a vast majority of Tribes – nearly 95 percent – with corrected submissions,” Kowalski adds.

The $8 billion coronavirus relief fund was authorized by Congress under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. The law directed Treasury to distribute the money “not later than 30 days” after its enactment on March 27.

Treasury missed the deadline despite promising tribes that it would make payments on time. Then, on May 5, the department announced that only $4.8 billion would be allocated.

The Trump administration forced tribes to submit additional information to claim shares of the remaining $3.2 billion, promising that payments would go out on June 5. After missing the deadline, Treasury threatened to withhold funds from tribes unless they corrected the data the department requested.

The plaintiffs in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin are:

  • Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (California)
  • Ak-Chin Indian Community (Arizona)
  • Northern Arapaho Tribe (Wyoming)
  • Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma)
  • Snoqualmie Tribe (Washington)
  • Yurok Tribe (California)

The tribes renewed their motion for a preliminary injunction on June 5, calling for the distribution of the money remaining in the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund by an “immediate and definitive date.”

“In continuing to delay in distributing all of the Title V funds for over two and a half times the amount of time allotted by Congress, the Defendant has egregiously and unreasonably delayed the performance of his duty in violation of Congress’s explicit mandate and to the extreme detriment of Plaintiffs and other Tribal governments,” the motion reads in reference to Secretary of the Treasury Steve Munchin, the defendant in the case.

“Defendant’s irresponsibility has real costs. Because of this delay, certain Plaintiff Tribes now have curtailed essential services and must make additional layoffs,” the motion continues. “Indeed, the threat to the health and welfare of Plaintiffs’ Tribal members in this ongoing health crisis is only compounding. And the longer Defendant delays in distributing all of the Title V funds, the greater the harm incurred by Plaintiffs will be.”

“This is especially true since Plaintiff Tribes must expend any CARES Act funds by the end of the year,” the filing concludes. “The delay must end.”

With payments from the $3.2 billion set to go out on June 12, it’s not clear whether Judge Amit P. Mehta plans to hold a hearing in the case. He already has another tribal CARES Act case on his calendar for the afternoon of June 11.

Then, on Friday afternoon at 1pm, Mehta is hearing arguments in a complete different tribal lawsuit. At issue is whether for-profit Alaska Native corporations are entitled to shares of the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund.

Mehta has temporarily stopped the Trump administration from making any payments to more than 200 Alaska Native regional and village corporations. But a final decision has not been reached in the case, known as Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe v. Mnuchin, and Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation v. Mnuchin.

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