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Tester, Walsh call for quicker Cobell payments for Indian Country

U.S. SENATE — With the company handling the Cobell settlement missing every scheduled payment this year, Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh are calling for faster payment processing so Native American families get the compensation they deserve for years of mismanaged trust accounts.

The Garden City Group is responsible for identifying tribal members who are eligible to receive payments under the terms of the settlement. But Tester – Chairman of the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee – and Walsh say that Garden City’s “exceedingly long” delays and “lack of transparency” are hurting Native American families meant to benefit from the Cobell decision.

“Our constituents have shared frustrations that final payments from the Settlement have not been completed in a timely manner,” Tester and Walsh told Garden City executive Jennifer Keough. “This delay is placing a financial burden on Montana families, and forcing many who are expecting payments to take out loans that they are now unable to repay. We are writing to inquire why these payments have not yet been distributed.”

Congress approved the historic Cobell v. Salazar class-action lawsuit in 2010 and the settlement was finalized in 2012. The lawsuit, brought by Blackfeet Tribal member Elouise Cobell, accused the federal government of mismanaging Indian trust accounts for decades.

“As Montana’s Senators, we are honored to represent a large constituency of Native Americans who are beneficiaries of the Cobell v. Salazar Settlement,” Tester and Walsh said. “Indeed, we represent the family of Eloise Cobell. Every day we postpone distribution is a disservice to the Indians who fought so long to achieve this Settlement.”

In their letter, Tester and Walsh note that Garden City distributed the first round of payments within months of the settlement being finalized in November 2012, but, more than 16 months later, the company has not distributed the next round of payments.

On Wednesday of last week, the U.S. Interior Department announced that it will start quarterly transfers of funds to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund.

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