May 29, 2020

Warren, Democratic Senators Request Information About the Distribution of Coronavirus Relief Funds to Tribal Governments

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

Text of Letter (PDF)


Washington, DC — United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in a letter to Secretary 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 tribal nations 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 tribal nations to provide feedback to ensure accuracy. 


In the letter, the senators ask Secretary Mnuchin to respond quickly to their request for information about the disbursement formula to ensure that the disbursement methodology is fully transparent and that all tribal nations receive adequate funds to protect the health and safety of their 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, the Treasury Department 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 the 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. 


Also signing the letter were Senators Jon 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-Ill.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).


Senator Warren has been very active in working to ensure Indian Country has the resources it needs and is owed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • On March 5, 2020, she joined Senator Udall's letter to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Task Force on Coronavirus, urging him to engage meaningfully with tribal leaders and Native communities. 

  • On March 16, 2020, she introduced the Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act (S. 3514), legislation that would guarantee that the Indian Health Service (IHS), tribal health authorities, and urban Indian organizations have direct access to the Strategic National Stockpile, a federal repository of drugs and medical supplies that can be tapped if a public health emergency could exhaust local supplies. 

  • In April 2020, Senator Warren cosponsored Senator Udall's CDC Tribal Public Health Security and Preparedness Act (S. 3486), which would enable tribal nations and tribal organizations to apply directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Public Health Emergency Preparedness program funds. 

  • On April 1, 2020, Senator Warren also joined colleagues in urging President Trump to ensure that COVID-19 relief is implemented in a way that upholds the federal trust and treaty responsibilities, respects tribal sovereignty, and provides for meaningful government-to-government consultation with tribal nations.

  • On April 8, 2020, she joined two letters to the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration, urging them to make the Paycheck Protection Program (established by the CARES Act) available to all tribal small businesses, as the statute required.

  • On April 22, 2020, she urged President Trump to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to waive the traditional cost-share requirements for all COVID-19-related assistance for the Commonwealth's two federally recognized tribal nations, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

  • On April 29, 2020, she led colleagues in seeking emergency funding for behavioral health organizations in the next coronavirus stimulus package, including funding for IHS and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration programs that serve American Indian and Alaska Native populations.

  • Also on April 29, 2020, she led colleagues in writing to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), calling on the Administration to fill the gaps in COVID-19 demographic data and to mobilize resources to the hardest hit communities. The letter to the CDC highlighted the lack of CDC funding and resources to tribal governments and organizations to build public health infrastructure in Indian Country, and urged closer tribal collaboration. The letter to Vice President Pence urged meaningfully engaging with Native communities and tribal leaders.

  • On April 30, 2020, she announced the COVID-19 Emergency Manufacturing Act (S. 3847), legislation that will provide COVID-19 products at no cost to federal, state, local, and IHS and tribal health programs.

  • On May 1, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Smith in urging Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to immediately disburse $8 billion in critical relief funds to eligible tribal governments.

  • On May 5, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on a letter asking that future COVID-19 legislation provide additional funding for IHS, tribal health programs, and urban Indian health organizations.

  • On May 14, 2020, she announced the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act (S. 3848), legislation that will establish a federal contact tracing program. The bill requires consultation with tribal health authorities and funding for IHS.

  • On May 27, 2020, she and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) requested that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights examine the federal government's response to the impact of COVID-19 in Indian Country. The two legislators also coauthored an op-ed calling for a more robust federal response to the pandemic’s effects on tribal populations.