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Trump Administration Ordered To Pay Tribal Communities COVID-19 Relief

Julia Banim

| Last updated 

Trump Administration Ordered To Pay Tribal Communities COVID-19 ReliefPA

A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to distribute $679 million in emergency coronavirus relief funds to Native American tribes.

US District Judge Amit Mehta gave the order on Monday, June 15, while chastising Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for the ‘irreparable harm’ the agency has caused by the delays.


Mnuchin was given until Wednesday to distribute the funds, which should really have been allocated months ago.

You can find out more about this issue here:


Judge Mehta’s order comes after the Treasury Department missed months of deadlines, which had been put in place to provide coronavirus aid for tribal communities.


Native American communities have been particularly affected by the ongoing health crisis. Over the course of the last few decades, these communities have taken on increased responsibility when it comes to the provision of varied governmental services on their lands, as The Harvard Gazette reports.

However, unlike state and local governments, tribal governments cannot collect enough taxes to cover the costs of these services, leading to dependence on income generated from casinos and other businesses to pay for important operations such as public safety, social services and law enforcement.

Joseph Kalt, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy Emeritus at Harvard Kennedy School, said the effects of coronavirus on tribal communities could prove ‘devastating’:

Native American tribes’ tax base have been cut literally to zero, and tribal governments don’t have money to run the health clinic or child protection services.

While state and local governments are also in trouble, at least they have a tax base, but tribes are really struggling because their tax base has been wiped out.


To make matters worse, some reservations have reported infection rates many times higher than rates recorded in the general US population, according to The Conversation, with tribal communities facing various ‘structural and historical obstacles’ when it comes to taking action to counter the virus.

For example, many health issues known to increase coronavirus mortality rates are reported to occur at high levels within Native American communities. These include hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, all of which are linked to disruption of Indigenous food systems.

Congress had put aside $8 billion for tribal communities after passing the CARES Act stimulus package in March, directing the Treasury Department to distribute the funding by April 26, The Huffington Post reports.


However, this didn’t end up happening and, in late May, the agency allocated an approximate $4.8 billion. The majority of the remaining $3.2 billion wasn’t given out until Friday, June 12.

Native AmericanPA

Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, told The Huffington Post:

The Court is absolutely correct: this administration has and continues to do ‘irreparable harm’ to Indian Country as it inexplicably holds back funds that Congress intended to get to Tribal governments urgently.

It continues to be a shameful scandal that the Trump administration has dawdled with this funding while people in Native communities are getting sick and dying, and while businesses and essential services are shuttering.


Delays have been largely attributed to the Treasury Department’s lack of competence when working alongside tribal communities. However, a lawsuit over Alaska Native Corporations’ funding eligibility has complicated matters further.

Mnuchin had reportedly been withholding $679 million of money belonging to tribal communities, with a separate legal battle going on concerning the agency’s means of working out how much funding communities should get.

Mnuchin has argued that he needed to keep hold of the money in case the Treasury Department loses in court and is required to pay more money to the underpaid community. However, Mehta has described the sum as being ‘grossly disproportionate’ to what the Treasury would have to pay up.

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Topics: News, America, Donald Trump, Now, USA


The Huffington Post and 3 others
Julia Banim
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