The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida could receive more relief funds from the federal government — amid ongoing litigation after the U.S. Treasury Department initially excluded the South Florida tribe from the coronavirus aid package passed last year at the beginning of the pandemic.
The Treasury Department announced last week it was revising its initial formula to determine how much money to allocate for each Native American tribe through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020, which set aside a total $8 billion for Tribal governments for expenses related to the pandemic. Three Native American tribes — including the Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas, and the Miccosukee Tribe in South Florida — sued the federal government last year over what they dubbed as a flawed methodology to determine how most of the relief funds were distributed.
The Miccosukee Tribe, whose members live within and outside several sections of the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, were among more than 20 Native American tribes that received the minimum $100,000 because their population, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was zero.
George Abney, a Georgia-based attorney representing the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida in the federal litigation, said they have since sent additional questions to the Treasury Department for more details regarding the revised formula.
“We’ve reviewed the announcement but at this point there are unanswered questions, and Treasury has not provided enough information so that we can evaluate it,” Abney told the Miami Herald after the federal agency’s announcement.
The initial methodology adopted by the agency under former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin entailed using population data from HUD and the Indian Housing Block Grant program to allocate 60% of the funds, or $4.8 million. The rest of the $8 million would be spent based on the number of employees at each Tribal government and enterprises, and the 2019 expenditures of the Tribal governments.
However, 25 Native American tribes were listed as having a population of zero, according to the tribes’ amended federal complaint, something they said was “a practical impossibility” and a mistake that did not take into account that many members of the tribes who have received health and social services from Tribal governments during the COVID pandemic do not live on Tribal lands.
“Even for Tribes that do have formula areas, their formula-area population may not provide a sufficiently accurate indication of the number of persons whom the Tribe provides services more generally,” the Treasury Department acknowledged in a statement on April 30.
The statement did not include how much money the tribes, including the Miccosukee Tribe, could receive once the methodology is adjusted.
In a federal complaint filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, attorneys for the Miccosukee Tribe said it had a population of 605 enrolled members at the time and claimed that they provided this data to the Treasury Department before the April 17, 2020, deadline. In total, they alleged in the court document, they should have been eligible for $2 million.
“The Miccosukee Tribe has incurred significant medical and public health expenses in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it continues to provide essential services to its citizens residing on and off its Tribal lands,” attorneys said in the federal complaint filed in July 2020.
In its latest response, the Treasury Department said it would compare the IHGB formula used in the first methodology against enrollment data recently collected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or use the data previously provided to the Treasury Department. They would then calculate each tribe’s “population-to-enrollment” ratio and make additional payments to the top 15% of tribes as ranked by that ratio.
The Miccosukee Tribe — whose land spans across Miami-Dade, Broward and Collier counties — operates school programs, day care and senior centers, a clinic and other social services. The Tribe also owns and operates the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming casino on Southwest Eighth Street and Krome Avenue.