Judge sides with Treasury in tribes coronavirus relief case
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A federal judge has sided with the Treasury Department in a case that challenged the distribution of coronavirus relief aid to Native American governments.
Tribal governments had received $4.8 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act based on federal housing population data that some said was badly skewed.
Three tribes in Oklahoma, Florida and Kansas sued over the methodology that relied on population data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tribes alleged they had been harmed by millions because tribal enrollment figures were higher than those reflected in federal data.
The figure for the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, for example, was zero in the federal data.
The Treasury Department revised the methodology to correct the biggest discrepancies after a federal appeals court said the methodology was likely arbitrary and capricious, and sent additional payments to some tribes.
The Shawnee Tribe was satisfied and dropped their legal challenge. The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in Florida and the Potawatomi Nation of the Prairie Band in Kansas argued that the new amounts made no sense when broken down to a per person figure and continued their fight in court.
U.S. District Court Judge Ahmit Mehta ruled on Friday that the Treasury Department’s revised methodology was reasonable, “even though some tribes ended up worse off than if the Treasury had simply used better data in 2020.” .
Congress gave the department discretion to allocate funding.
Carol Heckman, attorney for the Prairie Band, said Friday the tribe has not decided to appeal the decision. But she highlighted what she saw as a number of wins in the case.
Prairie Band received an additional $864,000 as a result of its lawsuit, Heckman said. The case influenced how the federal government distributed money to tribes under the American Rescue Plan Act by not relying on outdated HUD numbers.
And, a federal appeals court ruled that Mehta must consider the tribes’ claims on their merits after initially ruling that the Treasury Department’s methodology was not subject to judicial review.
“Overall, the litigation has been very successful despite this ruling,” Heckman said. “I am really very happy. »
Lawyers for the Miccosukee did not respond to email and phone requests for comment Friday. The tribe received an additional payment of nearly $825,000 as a result of the lawsuit.
The Shawnee Tribe received an additional $5.2 million.
It’s unclear which other tribes received additional payments last spring based on the revised methodology. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The agency said it would look at the difference between the federal data and the enrollment figures provided by the tribes and rank them, so the wealthiest 15% of the tribes would receive more money to correct the disparities the most. more important.
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