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COVID relief: Tribal funding in legal limbo

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The Treasury Division despatched out $4.eight billion in funds to tribal governments utilizing federal inhabitants knowledge that some tribes mentioned was badly skewed.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz — Almost a yr after Congress handed a coronavirus reduction invoice, some Native American tribes stay in authorized limbo over what’s been distributed. The difficulty did not change into any clearer for 3 tribes that argued throughout a federal courtroom listening to this week that they have been shortchanged underneath the method used to dole out a portion of the $eight billion put aside for tribes.

U.S. District Choose Amit Mehta set deadlines to maneuver the case ahead after attorneys for each side mentioned Thursday they couldn’t attain an settlement on interim funds whereas the U.S. Treasury Division comes up with a brand new technique to distribute the remaining $533 million.

The division despatched out $4.eight billion in funds to tribal governments utilizing federal inhabitants knowledge that some tribes mentioned was badly skewed.

The Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in Florida have been amongst these given the minimal $100,000 as a result of U.S. Division of Housing and City Growth knowledge confirmed that they had a inhabitants of zero. The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas has argued it ought to have acquired $7.65 million greater than it received, primarily based by itself enrollment knowledge.

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The tribes filed separate lawsuits which have been consolidated into one case, with the Shawnee Tribe because the lead plaintiff. Mehta initially dominated the Treasury Division had discretion in the way it distributes the funding and, due to this fact, the methodology wasn’t topic to courtroom assessment.

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A federal appeals courtroom revived the claims and despatched them again to Mehta for a choice on the deserves.

U.S. Justice Division legal professional Kuntal Cholera, who’s representing the Treasury Division, requested Mehta to provide the company till the tip of April to provide you with a brand new methodology that might consider potential outcomes in a pending U.S. Supreme Court docket case additionally centered on virus reduction funding for tribes.

Decrease courts in that case have been break up over whether or not Alaska Native firms, which personal most Place of origin within the state underneath a 1971 settlement, needs to be within the combine. Greater than a dozen Native American tribes sued the Treasury Division final yr to attempt to hold the cash out of the palms of the companies.

Within the Shawnee case, the tribe’s legal professional, Pilar Thomas, urged Mehta to forestall additional delays. “We’re nonetheless in a pandemic, and we’re nonetheless with out our cash,” Thomas mentioned.

What’s unclear is whether or not the three tribes would see any monetary reduction within the case. Cholera mentioned a choice in favor of the tribes merely would ship Treasury again to the drafting board on the best way to distribute the remaining funds. A brand new methodology would make the tribes’ claims moot, and federal legal guidelines would not present for any monetary damages, he mentioned.

Thomas disagreed and requested Mehta for a possibility to argue in any other case, as did attorneys for the Prairie Band and Miccosukee tribes.

Within the meantime, Mehta urged Justice Division attorneys to ask treasury officers once more if they’d take into account an interim cost to the tribes and report again to him by March 5. He mentioned it would not be a really great amount.

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“What is the worst that occurs?” he mentioned. “They get slightly greater than they’re speculated to, and so they use it to fight coronavirus.”

This story has been corrected to indicate the U.S. Treasury Division despatched out $4.eight billion in funds to tribal governments utilizing federal inhabitants knowledge.

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