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The Navajo Nation government will soon receive more than $600 million of the $8 billion allocated for tribes in the CARES Act, President Donald Trump said during a televised meeting with tribal leaders in Phoenix on Tuesday.
The U.S. Treasury Department said it has begun distributing $4.8 billion of the $8 billion allocated for tribal governments in the CARES Act.
The money is being distributed to tribes based on Census Bureau population estimates.
Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon thanked Congress for communicating the urgent needs of tribal governments to the Treasury and Interior departments.
“We, as Navajo leaders, have been listening to the needs of the Navajo people and our communities, and we will ensure that necessary funds are equitably and responsibly allocated within the time given to us,” Damon said in a statement.
The council will introduce legislation Wednesday to establish a spending plan for the money.
A Treasury news release said the remaining $3.2 billion will be distributed to tribes at a later date, based on the number of people the tribe employs and the amount of increased expenses each tribe has incurred while addressing the pandemic.
In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the “approach is based on the fair balancing of tribal needs.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., issued a statement saying the fund distribution is “too little, too late.”
“I am relieved that the Trump administration is finally beginning to get these dollars Congress provided out the door, especially after the White House and Senate Republican leadership tried to leave Tribes out of the CARES Act altogether,” said Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “But Native communities needed these resources for their health and economic recovery plans weeks ago. The full fund should have been distributed by now.”
The $8 billion has been tied up in court. The Treasury Department initially said Alaska Native corporations were eligible to receive the funds. But the Navajo Nation and at least 10 other tribes sued the Treasury, arguing the entities do not fit the CARES Act definition of a tribal government.
On April 27, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta issued a preliminary injunction in the case.
Mehta’s injunction prevents the Treasury from releasing funds to ANCs but does not prevent inclusion of the corporations in the distribution formula.
Tuesday’s Treasury announcement said the amounts calculated for ANCs “will be held back until pending litigation relating to their eligibility is resolved.”