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Tribes Sue for CARES Act Funds, Press Treasury to Act


Monday, May 4, 2020   

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Two California Native American Tribes, the Yurok and the Agua Caliente, are part of a new multi-tribe lawsuit to force the U.S. Treasury to disperse $8 billion earmarked for Indian Country in the CARES Act.

The funds have been held up by another lawsuit challenging whether Alaska Native corporations, which are not federally recognized tribes, should get part of the money.

Yurok Tribe chairman Joseph L. James said COVID-19 is putting a huge strain on tribal budgets.

"We are fronting money that we don't have," James said. "We closed our economic businesses -- our hotel, our casino. So, we're taking a hit just like everybody else across America."

On Friday, a judge in the Alaska Native lawsuit ruled the funds should be disbursed. But the Treasury said in a status report that it hasn't yet determined how to allocate the money.

James said the Yurok tribe has closed the reservation to visitors to protect its rural population, which includes many older members with pre-existing conditions. The tribe is distributing food and has temporarily waived many of its members' household bills.

"For our membership, we waived our monthly water bills, our internet, our loans. We waived those for the months of April and May," he said. "Our Yurok Indian Housing Authority waived the rent. So, it's really 'all hands on deck' for us."

According to a recent study from UCLA and The University of Arizona, the rate of COVID-19 per 1,000 people is four times higher on Indian reservations compared with other parts of the country.

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