Tribes await $8 billion in approved COVID-19 federal funding
United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
Tribal governments still waiting on $8 billion in aid for COVID-19
Indian tribal governments are still waiting for $8 billion in aid for direct emergency relief from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the $2.2 trillion bill passed on March 27. The $8 billion is for the tribal fund overseen by the Treasury Department. (A separate $2 billion has been released to federal agencies that serve Native communities, including the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.)
The Treasury Department had a statutory deadline of April 26 to distribute the monies to tribal governments. As of Friday, May 1, tribal governments still did not have their $8 billion – prompting a lawsuit by groups of tribes against the Treasury Department, which doesn’t normally interact with tribes and is bogged down in consultations with tribes in order to come up with a formula for distributing the funds.
This is all the more troubling because the $8 billion is far less than the at least $20 billion the continent’s 574 tribes need and asked for in direct federal relief to stem job losses and economic instability caused by the pandemic, according to the National Congress of American Indians, the largest organization representing the interests of tribal governments and communities. The White House originally said “no” to tribes getting ANY relief. It took a fight among the White House and Congressional Democrats and Republicans to get the $8 billion.
CBS-TV recently ran a segment titled “Coronavirus Race to Respond: Native American Impact.” Public health challenges were discussed with members of the Native community. Longstanding issues of historical trauma, racism, social determinants of health, health inequities, access to healthcare, and the federal government’s failure to support these communities’ social and economic well-being have left American Indian and Alaska Native families at high risk for COVID-19.
This continent’s first people suffer multiple roadblocks:
- Native Americans have long suffered inadequate healthcare and have higher rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and asthma – conditions that make them more susceptible to severe illness resulting from COVID-19.
- Housing availability is limited, and it’s not uncommon to find 13-14 people living together in an extended household for the necessity of paying bills. This complicates social distancing.
- 30 percent of homes lack running water, making frequent hand washing nearly impossible.
- It is very important to test and identify those who are infected, but while people drive up to get tested, many do not have phones, so getting the results to people who have tested positive is a challenge.
- The Indian Health Service is charged with providing health services to federally recognized tribes. Lack of funding, failing health care infrastructure, clinic closings, shortages of personal protection equipment and health care staff, lack of medical supplies, resources and other equipment coupled with high impact of poverty and other high-risk health conditions make care elusive.
COVID-19 shut down the gaming industry, affecting 246 tribal nations that own 500 gaming facilities. An April 7 analysis by Meister Economic Consulting concluded that these casino closures have already resulted in 296,000 people losing their jobs, $1.5 billion in lost economic activity for tribal governments and $332 million in lost wages.
But the Small Business Administration, which has been overseeing emergency payroll relief to small businesses (PPP – Paycheck Protection Program), initially decided that some casinos wouldn’t be eligible for relief based on an existing regulation prohibiting small businesses from getting federal aid if they get one-third or more of their revenue from gaming activities.
When tribal leaders protested, Congress assured them that tribal gaming businesses would be eligible for payroll relief. The SBA then issued a final policy on April 24 indicating that gaming businesses would be eligible for the PPP. While this is good news, the funds are almost gone even in this second round.
COVID-19 is now ravaging Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian reservation in the country with a population of more than 332,000, according to 2010 census data. Cases have surged to 2,292 as of May 2, with 73 confirmed deaths. The hardest hit areas are Utah and Southern Arizona. Navajo Nation has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 per capita than almost every U.S. state, behind only New York and New Jersey.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says, “There’s frustration from leadership ― not just here on Navajo but all of Indian Country…. We feel that the United States government once again has ignored or even left out the first residents, the first people, the first citizens of this country: Indigenous people.”
After the Treasury Department missed its April 26 deadline to distribute funds, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and several House Democrats wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin requesting that the Treasury Department immediately begin to disburse the $8 billion of Coronavirus Relief Funds to eligible federally recognized tribal governments.
Please urgently contact your U.S. Representative and ask that they call or send a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin requesting that the Treasury Department release and disburse the Coronavirus Relief Funds immediately.
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Here’s a breakdown of specific tribal resources, produced by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.