HELENA — An appeals court has dismissed the Fort Belknap tribal government’s request to prevent the federal government from recovering millions in housing subsidies that were overpaid to the central Montana reservation over a decade.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined it overpaid the central Montana reservation $2.86 million between 2000 and 2010, even after recovering earlier overpayments during that period and stretching back to 1998.
HUD gives Fort Belknap annual grants to subsidize housing units in a lease-to-own program for reservation residents. The payments are supposed to end when home ownership is conveyed to the resident, but the federal housing agency found the tribe was still receiving payments for residences that had been or should have been conveyed.
The agency sent the tribal government notices in 2001, 2005 and 2007 of overpayments for housing units that did not qualify for subsidies, a three-judge panel with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals said in Thursday opinion.
The tribe agreed in 2002 to repay HUD $330,524 through deductions from future grants, but it failed to respond to the 2005 and 2007 notices. HUD subtracted $249,561 from Fort Belknap’s 2006 grant allocation and an additional $310,330 based on the 2007 notice.
In 2010, after the tribal government sent HUD updated information about the housing inventory in the subsidy program, the federal agency found additional issues and contradictions from information that was provided in past challenges.
As a result, HUD determined that Fort Belknap had been overpaid a total of $2.86 million from 2000 to 2010, and the agency proposed a schedule to recover the full amount.
Fort Belknap officials filed two administrative appeals, saying the three-year time limit had run out for claims before 2010. The agency denied the appeals, saying the actions taken starting with the notice in 2001 began the process.
The tribal government then filed a petition with the federal appeals court to review HUD’s order.
The 9th Circuit panel ruled it has no jurisdiction to reverse the order because HUD has the authority to recover payments that were mistakenly made and the agency never found the tribal government to be in “substantial noncompliance” with the law.