The E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse houses both the federal court for the District of Columbia and the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Native Sun News Today: Tribes freeze Alaska Native Corporation pandemic funds again

WASHINGTON – The Cheyenne River, Oglala, Rosebud Sioux and other tribes succeeded in barring the release of federal pandemic relief money to Alaska Native Corporations for a second time when a U.S. District Judge here granted a stay on July 7.

District of Columbia Federal Judge Ahmet P. Mehta stopped the U.S. Treasury Department from disbursing the ANCs’ share of the tribes’ $8 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds just one week after he ruled that the corporations are eligible for it and ordered its release.

At the time, he also was presiding over another tribal government plaintiffs’ case, suing for release of the money to meet Indian country’s urgent needs for dealing with effects of the novel coronavirus’ spread.

Since then, 90 percent of the money has been made available to tribes, according to Treasury.

Seeing as how his eligibility decision led tribes to promise an appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court, Mehta put the hold on the remaining money, provided the plaintiffs should file a notice of appeal by July 14 in the consolidated tribal cases referred to as Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation et al v. Steven Mnuchin in his official capacity as Secretary of the Treasury.

The judge had granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting distributions to ANCs early on in the case, but he lifted it on June 26 when he ruled them eligible.

With the stay of his June decision in place, he reasoned, the outcome of an appeal would determine the correctness of his interpretation of Congress’ intent in authorizing the money.

The public interest “rests in carrying out Congress’ will, and that interest is not served if ANCs receive and spend tens of millions of dollars of emergency relief to which they are not entitled,” he wrote.

However, he added, “A delayed appeal would defeat the very purposes for which Congress appropriated CARES Act funds on an emergency basis.”

The plaintiffs “have not suggested that they intend to delay prosecuting an appeal; to the contrary, they have said they will pursue expedited review,” Mehta recognized.


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