Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > CARES Act Litigation: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin
Posted: June 17, 2020

The Trump administration on June 17, 2020, filed a notice in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin, announcing distribution of an additional $679 million from the coronavirus relief fund.

The notice comes two days after a federal judge ordered the additional money to be released. According to government attorneys, the payment are going out “imminently.”

“Pursuant to the Court’s recent Order, Treasury began today to disburse the $679 million that Treasury otherwise intended to withhold,” the two-page notice states.

Additionally, the notice states that no money will be set aside for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, whose lawsuit against the Trump administration seeks an additional $7.65 million from the COVID-19 fund. The tribe is appealing to a higher court in hopes of securing the money.

Judge Amit P. Mehta ordered the funds to be released late in the day on June 15.  Tribal governments waited long enough for shares of the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund they were promised more than two months ago, his decision stated.

“Congress plainly recognized the immediate need for emergency funds to assist Tribal governments in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, as evidenced by the remarkably short 30-day deadline to distribute the aid,” Mehta wrote in the ruling. “Each day that passes in which plaintiffs have not received their full allotment of funds impairs their capacity to respond to the crisis.”

On March 27, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. The law directed the Department of the Treasury to distribute $8 billion to tribal governments “not later than 30 days” after its enactment.

Treasury failed to meet the deadline after telling tribes to submit data that ended up leaking into the public domain. Instead, on May 5, the department announced a distribution of $4.8 billion from the coronavirus relief fund. Most tribes started seeing the money in their accounts on that day.

A second round of $3.2 billion was promised by early June, but only after tribes were required to submit additional information. After the deadline was missed, Treasury started disbursing payments on June 12 — yet still withheld $679 million from tribes even though Mehta determined that doing so was not necessary.

In a June 11 ruling in the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s case, Mehta said “it would be patently unfair to make Tribal governments wait any longer to receive the remaining CARES Act funds.”

Despite Treasury’s June 12 announcement, tribes did not see the money in their accounts until June 15. A hearing that morning eventually led to Mehta’s ruling later in the day.

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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