May 29, 2020

Wyden Pushes Trump Administration on the Distribution of Coronavirus Relief Funds to Tribal Governments

Senators echo concerns raised by Tribes about Treasury’s use of HUD population figures to determine funding allocations without necessary consultation

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined colleagues in pressing the Trump administration to clarify the formula used to allocate payments to Tribal governments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

In the letter, the senators ask Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to ensure that the disbursement formula is fully transparent and that all Tribes receive adequate funds to protect the health and safety of their Tribal communities. The senators echoed the concerns of many Tribes that the Treasury Department’s reliance on Housing and Urban Development (HUD) population data without necessary consultation may have resulted in an inaccurate and unfair distribution of funds, and that there have not been meaningful opportunities for Tribes to provide feedback to ensure accuracy.

“On May 5, 2020, you and Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that your Department based its initial CRF allocation from the $8 billion in funding set-aside for Tribal governments on population data. The Department indicated that it used U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) population figures as the dataset for this distribution,” wrote the senators.  “You and Secretary Bernhardt described this approach as a ‘fair balancing of tribal needs’ based on data that is ‘already familiar to Tribal governments.’’

“Since that announcement, we have received reports that call into question the validity of that characterization and raise the possibility that Treasury inaccurately calculated the first round of Tribal CRF allocation payments,” continued the senators.

Treasury has reportedly not provided a meaningful explanation for how it accounted for Tribes not included in IHBG population data and Tribes have expressed concerns over Treasury’s reliance on HUD’s population figures without prior consultation.

“Given Treasury’s determination that ‘Tribal population is expected to correlate reasonably well with the amount of increased expenditures of Tribal governments related directly to the public health emergency,’ it is critically important that the population numbers it relied on are as accurate as possible.  While Treasury has provided Tribes an opportunity to review the underlying IHBG dataset, Treasury has not published any modifications to the dataset to allow Tribes affected by the issues above to provide feedback and correct any potential errors or inaccuracies,” the senators wrote.

Joining Wyden on this letter were U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., John Tester, D-Mont., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Angus King, I-Maine,  Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The full letter is available here.