May 5 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump said the federal government on Tuesday began distributing funds allocated to Native American tribes as part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill signed in March.
He made the announcement during his most extensive trip since the COVID-19 crisis began in mid-March -- to Arizona.
"This is the largest investment in Indian country in our history. You deserve it, you've been through a lot," Trump said during a roundtable.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt issued a statement announcing payments to tribes will begin on Tuesday based on the population and will take place over several days.
The government will distribute 60 percent of the $8 billion allocated to tribes based on population data and the remaining 40 percent based on the number of people employed by each tribe and any tribally owned entity.
The announcement came after a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the Trump administration from giving the funds set aside for tribal governments to corporations owned by Alaska Natives.
Vice Chairman of the Senate committee on Indian affairs Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., criticized the announcement as "the definition of 'too little, too late,'" as it comes weeks after the signing of the bill.
"I am relieved that the Trump administration is finally beginning to get these dollars Congress provided out the door, especially after the White House and Senate Republican leadership tried to leave Tribes out of the CARES Act altogether," Udall said. "But Native communities needed these resources for their health and economic recovery plans weeks ago. The full fund should have been distributed by now."
Trump also signed a presidential proclamation designating May 5 as Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day.
Tuesday's visit included a tour of a Honeywell International aerospace facility, which has been transformed to make respirator masks.
North Carolina-based Honeywell is expanding its facilities in Phoenix to produce millions of N95 respirator masks under a contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are earmarked for healthcare workers across the country.
"I'm going there for two reasons," he told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base before his departure. "I love Arizona. I have a lot of friends in Arizona. I've had great success over the years in Arizona.
"And I'm going to pay my respects to Honeywell, one of our great companies that has done a fantastic job for us. So I look forward to it," he said.
Trump did not wear a mask during his visit, despite saying he would "have no problem" wearing a mask at the Honeywell plant if it were "a mask environment."
Vice President Mike Pence faced criticism last week for declining to wear a mask during a tour of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
The president arrived in Arizona along with Republican members of the state's congressional delegation, including Sen. Martha McSally and Reps. Debbie Lesko and Paul Gosar.
The White House said there will be no political events during the trip to the key presidential battleground state.