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Judge: Corporations can’t get share of tribal relief money

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A U.S. district judge has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Treasury Department from disbursing a portion of tribal COVID-19 relief funds to Alaska Native corporations. Judge Amit P. Mehta issued the ruling on Monday.

At issue is $8 billion included for tribal governments under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The Navajo Nation and 10 other tribes had filed suit against the U.S. Treasury, arguing that Alaska Native corporations should not qualify as tribal governments eligible for that portion of relief funds.

The court will “preliminarily enjoin the Secretary from disbursing Title V funds to any (Alaska Native Corporations), but will not direct him at this time to disburse the entire $8 billion in emergency relief to Plaintiffs and other federally recognized tribes,” according to the memorandum opinion that accompanied Judge Mehta’s injunction.

The CARES Act defines a tribal government as “the recognized governing body of an Indian tribe.” The Treasury Department initially stated that Alaska Native corporations fit that definition.

Monday’s court ruling states that “no ANC satisfies the definition of ‘tribal government’ under the CARES Act, and that the corporations may be eligible for other funding from the legislation.

In a news release Monday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez applauded the judge’s decision.

“Federally recognized tribes stood together to oppose the actions of the Department of the Treasury in another attempt to undermine the first citizens of this country, but our voices were heard and Indigenous people prevailed today! I’m sure there will be other attempts to direct these funds away from tribes, but we need to remain strong in our position and continue to ask our congressional delegation to continue fighting alongside us for our fair share of CARES Act funding,” President Nez said.

The Treasury Department has said that emergency funds from the CARES Act could be distributed to tribal governments as soon as Tuesday.

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