Shortchanged Shawnee Tribe Sues U.S. Treasury

This article originally appeared on the NICOA blog

The Shawnee Tribe, which is headquartered in Miami, filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last month, alleging the tribe was stiffed about $6 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief funds. The federal treasury had based its distribution on a database that incorrectly listed the Shawnee Tribe’s tribal enrollment as zero when it actually has 3,021 tribal citizens, the lawsuit states.

In the Shawnee Tribe’s federal lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, the tribe claims the U.S. Treasury Department disregarded the tribe’s population data and instead used HUD Indian Housing Block Grant data that doesn’t count tribal members who live off the reservation. Although HUD maintains enrollment population data for tribes, it is for the sole purpose of calculation and distributing HUD funds, which the Shawnee Tribe does not receive, according to the filing.

Since the tribe doesn’t receive Indian Housing Block Grant funds, the federal housing agency had its population and the populations of 25 other tribes listed as zero, which the tribe described as a “practical impossibility.” As a result of this error, the tribe only received $100,000 — the minimum relief funding for tribes — versus the $6 million it would have received based on its official enrollment. The Treasury Department chose to use the erroneous housing-based numbers even though the tribe had provided an accurate count, the Shawnee Tribe said.

The tribe wants a Tulsa federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Treasury Department from distributing about $12 million of funds that were being held back until the matter is resolved. The Treasury Department has filed a response opposing the temporary restraining order. The agency said that a Washington, D.C. court has already ruled that the federal agency had discretion in how to allocate the distribution of funds.