Tribal Input Needed for Distribution of CARES Act Funds

Funding appropriated specifically for payments to tribes cannot yet be distributed because criteria and mechanisms for distribution must first be developed. The Administration is now seeking tribal input to help them determine how tribes should receive federal aid. 

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act sets aside $150 billion for emergency relief payments to state, tribal, and local governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and creates the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF or the Fund) to manage the financial distributions. 

CRF funding will cover necessary costs that were: 1) “incurred due to the public health emergency;” 2) not accounted for in the state or local government’s most recently approved budget; and 3) incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020. 

Of the available resources, the CRF includes $8 billion in funding to tribal governments. An additional $2 billion are included in tribal-specific provisions, mostly for healthcare needs. 

The inclusion of $10 billion for tribes is the result of a herculean effort on the part of tribes, tribal organizations, and advocates for tribes, working around the clock and through the weekend to draft detailed language addressing specific needs in Indian Country. Tribal advocacy relentlessly stressed the importance of tribal inclusion in the CARES Act to ensure that tribal priorities were known to Members of Congress and finally formalized in ink on Capitol Hill. 

The Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) stated that, “Including tribal governments in discretionary funding for governmental aid is a significant advancement for Indian tribes.” 

However, the CARES Act does not specify how the funding for tribes will be disbursed. The law states that the amount paid to an individual tribe shall be determined by the Secretary of Treasury “in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior and Indian Tribes,” based on increased expenditures of that tribe compared to the previous year. 

Now, tribal consultations are more important than ever. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Treasury are seeking tribal input in the development of a formula or other methodology that will determine how to allocate the appropriated $8 billion to tribal governments. 

The Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeny, issued a letter to tribal leaders yesterday requesting their input. Leading organizations like NAFOA and the National Congress of American Indians are encouraging tribes to participate in consultation discussions. They are framing questions for discussion under four major points: payment method, requirements, use of funds, and oversight & enforcement. 

The matter is urgent and the timeline is tight. The Secretary of Treasury must pay each government listed in the Act by April 27, 2020. Two Treasury telephone consultations are scheduled for April 2nd and April 9th from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Tribal leaders wanting to participate in these telephone consultations should dial (888) 950-5924 and enter 1682452 as the participant code.

For more information view the Department of the Treasury website, the Treasury “Dear Tribal Leader Letter”, or reach out to