Tribes have yet to get share of $8 billion in coronavirus pandemic relief money

(Zak Podmore | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Navajo Health System and the Utah Department of Health’s Utah Public Health Laboratory conducted over 1,300 drive-thru tests in southern San Juan County in mid-April. The initiative wrapped up in Monument Valley on Friday, April 17, 2020.

Flagstaff, Ariz. • The U.S. Treasury Department has not sent any payments to tribal governments from a coronavirus relief package approved in late March.

The agency said it has not determined how to allocate $8 billion in funding that was set aside for tribes. It said it would post details on its website, but nothing appeared as of Monday.

The Treasury Department was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit brought by tribes that sought to keep the money out of the hands of Alaska Native corporations. U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., agreed last week to limit funding to the country's 574 federally recognized tribes while he settles the larger question of eligibility.

In a status report filed late Friday, an attorney for the Treasury Department said the agency hadn't decided whether to appeal that ruling but is working to process initial payments to tribal governments.

Attorneys for the tribes wrote in court documents that they will take further action if the payments do not go out this week.

States and local governments already have received funding. The deadline to distribute money under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was April 26.

The tribes that have sued are in Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Washington state. They and the federal government disagree over the definition of “Indian Tribe” that was included in the relief package.