Injunction holds up $8B CARES Act Tribal allocation for Alaska Native corporations

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney is at the center of a controversy about whether Alaska Native Corporations should be given CARES Act funding meant for tribal entities (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. Treasury and Interior departments announced Tuesday they would begin disbursing part of an $8 billion tribal allocation for coronavirus relief funds.

But for now, Alaska Native corporations are being left out.

The secretaries of Treasury and Interior are being sued by tribes, who say the departments mishandled the tribal allocation, and for the inclusion of Alaska Native regional and village corporations.

statement from the Department of Treasury says amounts calculated for Alaska Native regional and village corporations under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act will be held back while that lawsuit is decided.

The CARES Act funding is to help tribes with relief efforts in the fight against coronavirus.

Only about 60% — or $4.8 billion — will initially be distributed based on tribal population. The population count is based on the Indian Housing Block Grant formula used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The initial disbursement would happen over several days.

President Donald Trump spoke Tuesday with indigenous leaders at a roundtable in Phoenix, Arizona.

“The amount of the money that is being sent to Indian Country — as we call it — is the largest amount in the history of the U.S.,” Trump said. “You deserve it. You’ve been through a lot.”

The remainder of the tribal allocation would be distributed at a later date based on employment and expenditure data for each tribe or tribally-owned business.

Democrats on the U.S. House Resources Committee are calling for an investigation into Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney. They want the Inspector General to determine whether she violated ethics rules by advocating for Alaska Native corporations to be included in the CARES Act Tribal allocation.

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