Trump Administration Releases Virus Relief Funds to Native American Tribes

May 5, 2020 Updated: May 5, 2020

The Trump administration has begun to release some of the CCP virus relief funding promised to Native American tribes and approved by Congress last month.

The initial payout will involve 60 percent of the $8 billion allocated to tribes. The remaining money will be distributed based on the total number of people employed by the Indian tribe and any entity owned by tribes, as well as how much “further data to be collected related to the amount of higher expenses faced by the tribe in the fight against COVID-19,” according to the government.

The payments will be based on population data from U.S. Census figures.

The figures are already used in the distribution of the Indian Housing Block Grant, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who reached an agreement on how to disperse the money.

Initial payments won’t include corporations in Alaska because of pending litigation.

“We are pleased to begin making $4.8 billion in critical funds available to Tribal governments in all states,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “Our approach is based on the fair balancing of tribal needs.”

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A woman walks before dawn in Toksook Bay, Alaska, on Jan. 20, 2020. (Gregory Bull, File/AP Photo)

Six tribes filed a lawsuit (pdf) last month to halt funds going to Alaska Native Corporations. The regional and village corporations were formed after Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.

The regional corporations own some subsidiaries operating in other states and foreign countries, according to the complaint. Plaintiffs argued the corporations shouldn’t receive federal funds approved for relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill Congress passed allocated $8 billion for making payments “to tribal governments.”

Some tribes have taken aim at Tara Sweeney, an assistant secretary in the Interior Department, who had been an executive of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

“Charged with a large public trust, she unfairly sought to divert emergency Tribal Government resources to state-chartered, for-profit corporations owned by Alaska Native shareholders, including her and her family,” Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, wrote in a letter (pdf) to Mnuchin and Bernhardt arguing for Sweeney’s removal.

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President Donald Trump speaks as he departs the White House en route to Arizona on May 5, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Chuck Hoskin Jr., chief of Cherokee Nation, called efforts to disperse funds to the Alaska Native Corporations a “corporate cash grab of funds meant for Indian tribal governments.”

The announcement from Mnuchin and Bernhardt came as President Donald Trump traveled to Arizona to meet with Native Americans.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters in Washington that Trump planned on signing an executive order addressing the issue of missing and killed indigenous women.

“[We’re] redoubling our commitment and adding money to allow us to trace and investigate and find these missing and murdered women,” Conway said. “I think they’ve been under-counted for a very long time, and every one of them counts to us.”

Trump would also speak about the $8 billion allocation, she said.

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