May 14, 2020. Recently, the Mescalero Apache Tribe received $13.5 million to address the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The funding was provided to Mescalero through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), passed by Congress on April 22nd. The CARES Act set aside $8 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (“CRF”) for specifically for tribes. The U.S. Treasury Department released 60% of the CRF funding to tribes last week. The amount of funding received by each tribe was determined by population. “The Tribe is grateful for this money. We closed our casino to stop the spread of the coronavirus in our community and in neighboring communities. Now we have almost zero revenue coming in. We have to keep our community safe until this is over – the need for this money is huge,” stated Mescalero Apache Tribal President Gabe Aguilar.
Mescalero advocated for flexible rules for how the CRF funding could be used. But the Treasury Department issued strict guidelines governing the use of the funding. President Aguilar noted: “The Tribe has many needs and some of these needs result indirectly from COVID-19. These are legitimate needs, but this funding cannot be used.” He continued, “I know people will think that we can spend the money on anything we want – I want it to be clear that this money is restricted to COVID-19 needs”.
In line with these guidelines, yesterday, the Mescalero Apache Tribal Council, using its CRF funds, established an economic support program where each eligible Tribal member over the age of eighteen (18) can receive a $1,000 economic support payment. “This payment can be used to pay for food, electricity and other needs. Everyone is suffering the economic impacts of COVID-19. Please apply as soon as possible,” stated President Aguilar. Payments will be made by June 1, 2020.
The remaining 40% of the tribal funding in the CRF will be allocated depending on the outcome of a lawsuit filed by several tribes against the federal government. The lawsuit revolves around the issue of whether Alaskan Native Corporations are eligible to receive funding from the CRF or not. The Treasury Department has indicated that the remaining funding will be allocated according to factors like the number of individuals employed by and the annual revenue of each tribe. Mescalero opposes the possible distribution of monies from the CRF to ANCs and previously called for the resignation of the Department of Interior’s Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeney, for her involvement in efforts to include ANCs.