Judge Amit Mehta has issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring Treasury from distributing any COVID-19 relief funds to ANCs. Pictured: U.S. Treasury on March 29, 2019. (Craig James)
Judge Amit Mehta has issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, from distributing any COVID-19 relief funds designated for Tribal governments to Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs).
His 34-page decision cites the Plaintiff’s “clear showing that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief.”
Comments by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez underline the Plaintiff’s core position in the case: “Alaska Native Corporations are for-profit entities that have billions of dollars in revenue, and can access other funding sources in the CARES Act. The Congressional intent of these funds were to relieve tribal governments. We need [to] provide relief for our tribal communities, not shareholders.”
Judge Mehta’s order bars emergency relief set aside under Title V of the CARES Act from going to ANCs at this time:
“Defendant Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is preliminarily enjoined from disbursing to any Alaska Native regional corporation or Alaska Native village corporation any Coronavirus Relief Funds allocated under Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, H.R. 748, 116th Cong. (2020). This preliminary injunction shall expire upon entry of final judgment in this case or other court order. This is a final, appealable order.”
The original CARES legislation signed into law on March 27 chose to use the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) definition of “Indian Tribes,” which includes ANCs. Many Tribal leaders maintain that for-profit ANCs are not governments, and that Alaskan communities that have governments alongside ANCs could be able to double- or even triple-dip from CARES funding. ANCs contend otherwise: Through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, they are responsible for providing programs and services to their shareholders, Alaska Natives — much in the same manner as Tribal governments.
While on April 23rd, the Treasury Department reaffirmed its stance that ANCs may receive funding, Judge Mehta has ruled in favor of Tribal plaintiffs in Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin.