Researchers Release Proposal for Fair Distribution of Response Funds to Native Nations

May 22, 2020
Researchers Release Proposal for Fair Distribution of Response Funds to Native Nations

Cambridge, MA – A team of researchers from Harvard, the University of Arizona, and University of California, Los Angeles today released its proposal for fairly allocating the $8 billion of Title V CARES Act monies earmarked for the governments of federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native nations. The Act requires that the funds be released immediately and that they be used for actions taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. These may include costs incurred by tribal governments to respond directly to the crisis, such as medical or public health expenditures by tribal health departments. Eligible costs may also include the burdens associated with what the U.S. Treasury Department calls “second-order effects”, such as having to provide economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to pandemic-driven business closures.

Determining eligible costs is problematic. Title V of the CARES Act instructs that the costs to be covered are those incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020. Not only does this create the need for some means of approximating expenditures that are not yet incurred or known, but the Act’s emphasis on the rapid release of funds to tribes also makes it imperative that a fair and feasible formula be devised to allocate the funds across 574 tribes without imposing undue delay and costs on either the federal government or the tribes.

Recognizing the need for reasonable estimation of the burdens of the pandemic on tribes, the research team investigates data-ready correlates of those burdens. It proposes a three-part formula that puts 60% weight on each tribe’s population of enrolled citizens, 20% weight on each tribe’s total of tribal government and tribal enterprise employees, and 20% weight on each tribe’s background rate of coronavirus infections (as predicted by available peer-reviewed modeling).

The researchers previously found that Treasury’s disbursement of a first tranche of $4.8 billion to tribes in early May was rife with arbitrariness and error. Their proposal straightforwardly allows Treasury to correct these problems such that the overall $8 billion is allocated equitably across tribes.

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For further information, contact Megan Hill, Program Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Director, Honoring Nations, at

About the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development    

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development is based in the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The Harvard Project aims to understand and foster the conditions under which sustained social and economic development is achieved among Indigenous nations in the US and beyond.

About the Native Nations Institute   

The Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona’s Udall Center for Public Policy is a self-determination and self-governance resource for Native nations, providing professional development, policy analysis, and research to Indigenous leaders, tribal governments, and their partners worldwide.