FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Tribal nations are challenging a court decision that allows Alaska Native corporations to receive a share of $8 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding set aside for tribes.
The tribal nations filed a notice of appeal this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, who was overseeing the case in the lower court, had said the U.S. Treasury Department could release funding to the corporations if the tribes didn’t move forward with an appeal by Monday.
Congress approved the funding as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The U.S. Treasury Department and the tribal nations disagree about which entities Congress intended to be eligible for the tribal set-aside and the meaning of language included in the bill.
Mehta ruled against the tribes in late June, saying the corporations can be treated as tribal governments for limited purposes. But Mehta acknowledged he wrestled with the decision.
He granted a request from the tribal plaintiffs to halt funding to the corporations while his decision is appealed.
The Treasury Department has disbursed most of the money to the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes. It set aside at least $162 million for the corporations, according to court documents, but hasn’t disclosed the exact amount.
Two other cases that tribes brought against the Treasury Department over CARES Act funding have been dropped. A lawsuit filed by the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma over the department’s methodology for distributing an initial round of relief funding is ongoing.