Udall, Democratic Senators Request Information About 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
May 29, 2020

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NEWS FROM THE U.S. SENATE

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29, 2020

 

Udall, Democratic Senators Request Information About 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 — U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, along with U.S. Senators John Tester (D-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Il.), Angus King (I-Maine), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.),and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin requesting that the agency clarify the disbursement 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. 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 result in an inaccurate or unfair distribution of funds, and that there have not been meaningful opportunities for Tribes to provide feedback to ensure accuracy.

 

In the letter the senators ask Secretary Mnuchin to respond to their information request about the disbursement formula quickly to ensure that the disbursement methodology is fully transparent and that all Tribes receive adequate funds to protect the health and safety of their Tribal communities.

 

“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. 

 

Moreover, 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.

 

The full letter can be found below and HERE.

 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin,

 

We write to urge you to clarify the disbursement formula the Department of Treasury used to allocate payments to Tribal governments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) authorized by Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136).

 

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.[1]  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.  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.[2]  Additionally, Treasury claims that Tribal governments “have already been provided the opportunity to scrutinize and challenge [the IHBG data’s] accuracy,”[3] but Tribes not included in the IHBG population data have expressed concern over Treasury’s reliance on HUD’s population figures to determine their allocations without prior consultation.  Treasury has reportedly not provided a meaningful explanation for how it accounted for Tribes in these circumstances. 

 

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,”[4] 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.

 

We therefore ask you to provide us with a table of all Tribal allocations issued using the IHBG-based formula and an explanation of all IHBG dataset modifications or additions Treasury made.  We urge you to provide this information expeditiously to ensure that this disbursement methodology is fully transparent and that all Tribes receive adequate funds to ensure the health and safety of their Tribal communities.

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  We look forward to working with you to continue to uphold the federal government’s Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities and government-to-government relations with Tribal governments regarding the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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Contact: Ned Adriance (Udall) 202.228.6870