COVID-19 aid starts flowing to tribes after weeks of confusion

President Trump signs the CARES act, a $2 trillion rescue package to provide economic relief amid the coronavirus outbreak, at the Oval Office of the White House on Friday.
President Trump signs the CARES Act, a $2 trillion rescue package to provide economic relief on March 27.
Jim Watson | AFP via Getty Images

After weeks of delay and confusion, the Trump administration has announced a plan to disburse coronavirus relief funds to tribal governments. 

The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, designated $8 billion for Native American tribes, but tribal leaders in Minnesota and across the country said the money was delayed because of confusion about how it should be distributed. 

This week, the federal government announced it will immediately begin distributing $4.8 billion to tribal governments. On Wednesday, White Earth Nation in northern Minnesota said it received $20.6 million from the law. Tribal leaders said in a statement they are still deciding how to best use the funds.

Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said she was glad to see action to start releasing the funds, but tweeted: "This is just a start. Treasury should disburse all $8 billion to tribal governments immediately — Tribes have already had to wait too long."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said 60 percent of the $8 billion allocated by Congress will be distributed based on population data used to distribute Indian Housing Block Grant funds. Officials said that money will be sent to tribal governments over several days. 

Remaining funds will be sent to tribal governments later based on the total number of persons employed by the tribe and any tribal-owned entity, and additional data to be collected later about how much tribal governments have spent on COVID-19 response.

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