Social Security Administration issues Emergency Message Decision Regarding Trust Fund Management Lawsuits
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan, LLP a national law firm serving Indian tribes and tribally related interests, was recently informed by the Social Security Administration that it has issued an Emergency Message Decision. The decision states that the Social Security Administration would exclude distributions of tribal trust fund settlements from a member’s countable income and resources for purposes of determining eligibility for SSI or Medicare Part D.
In 2005, the Ute Indian Tribe represented by Fredericks Peebles & Morgan, LLP filed suit against the United States for mismanagement of the Tribe’s trust assets and when the Tribe received the settlement funds in March 2012, it distributed the settlement funds on a per capita basis to each of its tribal members. The settlement funds were awarded to the Tribe to settle ongoing litigation against the United States regarding the government’s mismanagement of tribal trust assets.
Ute Indian Tribe Chairwoman Irene Cuch stated, “I am very pleased that we have been able to secure this decision for the benefit of our tribal members, who will no longer have to worry about losing their Social Security or Medicare benefits as a result of the per capita distribution of these monies from the Tribe’s trust mismanagement case…this is a huge relief for our Tribe and all the tribes that have received a settlement and provided it to their members.”
In order to ensure the distribution did not affect the eligibility of those who were receiving income-based public assistance, such as Medicare and Supplemental Social Security the Ute Indian Tribe took action to address this issue immediately after tribal members petitioned for a complete per capita distribution of the settlement funds. In May of 2012, the Ute Indian Tribe advocated for an exemption of these funds from program eligibility with the Social Security Administration, the State of Utah, Utah state agencies, and several other federal agencies, on the basis that a one-time per capita distribution should not affect public assistance currently received by the most vulnerable members of the Tribe’s community.