Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > CARES Act Decision: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin
Posted: June 15, 2020

A federal judge on June 15, 2020, ordered the Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin to distribute the remainder of the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund to tribes, as promised by Congress more than two months ago.

“Congress instructed the Secretary to make payments within 30 days; as of today, the Secretary is at 80 days and counting,” Judge Amit P. Mehta writes in the seven-page decision.

The Department of the Treasury on June 12, 2020, began making a final round of payments from the $8 billion fund. But Mnuchin withheld $679 million from tribes without adequate cause, the judge noted.

“The Secretary did so even though the court had ruled the prior day, June 11, 2020, that the Prairie Band Plaintiffs were not entitled to enjoin the Secretary’s final emergency relief payments, because his first- tranche allocation determination was a discretionary act that is not judicially reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act,” the decision states, in reference to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, which filed a different lawsuit over the fund.

Thus, at present, there is no court order that prevents the Secretary from releasing the remaining $679 million in Title V funds to Tribal governments. That amount is being withheld of the Secretary’s own accord,” Mehta writes in reference to the section of the CARES Act that required Treasury to distribute $8 billion to tribes “not later than 30 days” after its enactment. 

“The Secretary has now taken more than twice as much time as Congress directed to distribute all CARES Act funds,” the judge continues. “Congress instructed the Secretary to make payments within 30 days; as of today, the Secretary is at 80 days and counting. Second, the Secretary has distributed most of the emergency relief but not all of it.”

“The court acknowledges the Secretary’s efforts to date to distribute more than 90% of the $8 billion appropriated by Congress, and to do so in a fair and equitable manner. But the Secretary’s withholding of $679 million ‘to resolve any potentially adverse decision in litigation,’ simply cannot be justified,” Judge Mehta says in granting a preliminary injunction requested by the plaintiffs in the case.

“Congress made a policy judgment that Tribal governments are in dire need of emergency relief to aid in their public health efforts and imposed an incredibly short time limit to distribute those dollars,” Mehta added. “Tribal governments therefore are presumed already to be suffering great harm, as confirmed by Plaintiffs’ affiants, who have explained that they have been forced to shut down revenue-producing operations while also incurring new costs to respond to the pandemic, with the resulting reduction of ‘government services putting the health and safety of tribal members at substantial risk.'”

“The 80 days they have waited, when Congress intended receipt of emergency funds in less than half that time, is long enough,” Mehta says of the long wait tribes have endured to receive all the money promised to them.

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)
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