Judge Rules: ANCs Entitled to Shares of $8B in CARES Act Funds for Tribes

Treasury reserved $162.3 million, of the $8 billion in COVID-19 relief for Tribes, for Alaska Native Corporations.

Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) are eligible for shares of the $8 billion in COVID-19 relief designated for Tribal governments under Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a D.C. federal judge has ruled. 

U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta’s June 26th determination lifts his April 27th injunction that temporarily barred Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, from distributing any CARES Act funds to ANCs. 

The more than 230 ANCs qualify as “Indian Tribes” under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, and therefore merit part of the pandemic aid to Tribes, Mehta said Friday. 

In Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin, a group of Tribes sued Secretary Mnuchin on April 17th to prevent disbursement of CARES Act funds to for-profit ANCs. While Mehta granted preliminary relief to the Tribal plaintiffs on April 27, Treasury withheld $162.3 million of the $8 billion in COVID-19 relief for Tribes, expressly for ANCs based on data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now Mehta’s 36-page ruling gives Treasury the green light to begin distributing the $162.3 million set aside for ANCs. 

In April, the court said ANCs don’t have “recognized governing bodies” under the CARES Act, but then Mehta reverted on his previous opinion: “upon further reflection the court now concludes the opposite….”

As Judge Mehta admitted during June 12 oral arguments, he has “wrestled” with what constitutes a Tribal government, noting on June 26th that the case “does not present easy, straightforward questions of statutory interpretation.”

Mehta concluded: “It stands to reason that Congress, in its effort to distribute emergency funds quickly to Indians under the CARES Act, intended to get those dollars in the hands of the same entities that deliver public services to Indians. In the lower 48 states, those entities are largely Tribal governments in the traditional sense, but in Alaska, those entities include Alaska Native village and regional corporations.”

Two other lawsuits were consolidated with the lead case, Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin, including Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe et al v. Mnuchin and Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation v. Mnuchin

The Confederated Tribes responded with a motion Monday requesting the court issue an injunction preventing Treasury from disbursing the funds to ANCs while the Tribes appeal the decision to the D.C. Circuit.