U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta says the U.S. Treasury needs to accelerate its release of the $3.2 billion remaining in CARES funding to Tribes, but the court will not step in at this time. Treasury has not committed ‘egregious’ delay to merit court Intervention now.
U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta has rejected a Tribal cohort’s bid to force Treasury to disburse immediately the remaining $3.2 billion of Title V funds it still owes Tribal governments in COVID-19 relief.
But, in response to a Treasury official’s indication that it could take two months past the deadline (beyond May 26) for the remaining money to go out, Mehta said that “will not be acceptable.”
As of now, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has not committed “egregious” delay, according to Judge Mehta. “Under a rule of reason, missing a deadline but meeting it in part nine days later does not evince ‘egregious’ agency delay that warrants mandamus relief,” said Mehta, adding that Tribes did not demonstrate how Treasury’s delay had gone on too long “thus far.”
The eight Tribes in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin said in a May 3 amended complaint that further delay could lead to the cut off of essential services and even more staff layoffs. New plaintiffs, the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation, joined the original six that filed the April 30 lawsuit: the Agua Caliente Band and Yurok Tribe in California, Ak-Chin Indian Community in Arizona, Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming, Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and Snoqualmie Tribe in Washington.
The Tribes’ legal representation, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, released a statement Monday that the Tribes’ suit has still served a purpose — “to speed up the disbursement of desperately needed COVID-19 relief funding to Indian Country.” And now, Judge Mehta’s order clarifies that Treasury will need to accelerate its release of the remaining 40% of the funding.
Starting May 5, Treasury began delivering 60 percent ($4.8 billion) of the $8 billion owed to Tribes based on population data, and the remaining 40 percent ($3.2 billion) will be disseminated based on the total number of persons employed by the Indian Tribe and any Tribally-owned entity.
The process for calculating shares of the remaining $3.2 billion, by employment figures, is more complicated than the first method, relying on population data. But the timetable needs to remain tight to avoid the federal court’s intervention, Mehta emphasized.
Of the first $4.8 billion distribution, about $162 million has been withheld for Alaska Native Corporations, in the event the court rules ANCs can receive a portion of the $8 billion Tribal set aside from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.