All $8B in Tribal CARES Relief ‘Needs to Get out the Door, on the Ground’

The Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe will be getting $12 million in relief funding from the CARES Act. (Courtesy ND Indian Affairs Commission/YouTube)

On Tuesday, May 5 the Treasury Department announced it would start paying out $4.8 billion of the $8 billion in relief funding promised to Tribes in the CARES Act, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The first disbursement, which equates to about 60 percent of the total, has been calculated by population, based on Census Bureau data used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in connection with the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) program. The second allocation, the remaining 40 percent, will be determined by the number of persons employed and expenditures data of Tribes and Tribally-owned entities. 

“We will leverage every resource we have to bring safety to our Tribal communities, and we will not waver in this mission,” President Donald Trump said during a roundtable discussion with Tribal leaders on May 5. He added that the initial allocation of this funding, totaling nearly $5 billion, will be one of the largest “programmatic” investments in Indian Country in the country’s history.

The hard-hit Navajo Nation will receive $600 million. Meanwhile, Senator John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, noted in a release that under the population distribution formula, North Dakota Tribes would be getting about $109 million. Broken down by Tribe as follows:

  • Spirit Lake Nation: $12 million
  • Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: $21 million
  • MHA Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes): $17 million
  • Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate: $15 million
  • Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians: $44 million 

Other Tribal amounts are expected to be announced soon. 

On the bright side, Tribes are finally starting to receive their share of stimulus money. But many Tribal stakeholders are calling the U.S. government’s delay excessive, and the support, underfunded. 

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, called the Treasury’s announcement the “definition of ‘too little, too late.’” Noting that it came “weeks after the deadline and billions of dollars short.”


“All $8 billion of the Tribal relief fund — and not a dollar less — needs to get out the door, on the ground, and into the right hands immediately,” he continued. “And the administration must stop deploying COVID-19 resources in a way that systemically excludes Tribes and Native communities.”

The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) Sovereignty Protection Fund echoed frustration that more than $3 billion of the $8 billion Tribal set aside is being temporarily withheld. USET Executive Director Kitcki A. Carrol highlighted a sad truth about the drag in delivering critical Tribal support: “unfortunately, Indian Country is not completely surprised.”

Carrol stated: “We are disappointed by the continued defense of a fundamentally incorrect position put forward by this administration — one that is resulting in a significant sum being held back, as well as the use of a flawed and murky distribution process, but unfortunately, Indian Country is not completely surprised. We are all too familiar with the myriad of complications and challenges that plague our relationship with the United States. At its core is a historical and modern day pattern of decisions and actions that fail to treat our relationship with the reverence that it rightfully deserves, a disregard for our inherent sovereign rights and authorities, an often superficial execution of government-to-government diplomacy, and unfulfilled and broken trust and treaty responsibilities and obligations.”

And President Bryan Newland of the Bay Mills Indian Community exclaimed on social media on May 5, after the Treasury disclosed the criteria: “FEDS, QUIT MAKING THIS HARDER THAN IT IS! This new formula relies on inaccurate Tribal enrollment data, allows distribution of funds to non-federally recognized Tribes (including ANCs), and short-changes Tribes that have fewer housing needs.”

That said, amounts previously calculated for Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act regional and village corporations will be held back until pending litigation relating to their eligibility is resolved. On April 27, Judge Amit Mehta issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin from distributing any COVID-19 relief funds designated for Tribal governments to Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs).