$10 Billion in Aid Appears Headed to Indian Country with Passage of Senate Coronavirus Bill

The United States Senate voted unanimously to pass a $2 trillion aid package, including more than $10 billion for American Indians and Alaska Natives. (CSPAN Screen Capture) 

WASHINGTON — More than $10 billion appears to be headed to Indian Country with the passage of a bipartisan COVID-19 emergency relief package by the Senate last night. 

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed unanimously in a 96-0 vote late last night, calls for an $8 billion Tribal Government Relief fund, which would provide tribes with “one-stop” access to COVID-19 resources for economic recovery and the continuation of essential government services. 

The agreement also contains $2.3 billion in emergency supplemental funding for Indian Tribes, Native communities and urban Indian health programs, including $1.032 billion for the Indian Health Service. Tribal programs for housing, education and food distribution would receive approximately a half-billion in aid, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs is due to receive $453 million to assist tribes. 

“We worked hard to secure necessary resources to help Tribes combat the coronavirus outbreak,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a statement today. “This legislation delivers important resources for Indian Tribes to help health care providers, small businesses, schools, communities, and individuals mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in tribal communities.”

Having cleared the Senate, the bill is headed to the House, where it is expected to be approved by voice vote on Friday. President Trump said he intends to sign the bill into law immediately.

“Tribes are on the front lines of this public health crisis, and they have been very clear that they need health, economic, and community COVID-19 recovery resources,” Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a statement. “No doubt – these are key victories. But the fight to make sure Indian Country isn’t left behind in the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic must continue. 

“Congress must do more to respond to the unique COVID-19 related public health and economic crises in Indian Country and to uphold our trust and treaty responsibilities to all American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

The CARES Act includes a number provisions for Indian Tribes, such as:

  • $8 billion in the Tribal Stabilization Fund to provide emergency relief to tribal governments and offset costs incurred by Indian Tribes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensuring that Indian Tribes and their businesses are eligible for the $454 billion loan guarantee funds and $349 billion under the U.S Small Business Administration (SBA) Loan 7(a) Program.   
  • $1.032 billion for Indian Health Service (IHS) for coronavirus response efforts, including treatment and preventing the spread of COVID-19 on tribal lands.
  • $100 million for USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
  • $453 million for Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Public Safety and Law Enforcement.
  • $327 million for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).
  • $305 million for Indian Housing Programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Tribal citizens and Native-owned businesses will also have access to numerous funding programs available through other federal programs such as the SNAP and WIC programs for food safety as well as grants and loans through the Small Business Association. 

DETAILED SUMMARY OF TRIBAL PROVISIONS

  • U.S. Department of Treasury Tribal Stabilization Fund—Section 601 provides $8 billion in emergency relief funds to Indian Tribes. These funds will be available to tribal governments who certify that the funds will be used to offset expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, these funds will be disbursed by the Secretary of Treasury.
  • U.S. Small Business Administration Loan 7(a) Program—Section 1102 makes tribal businesses and tribal government owned businesses eligible for the $349 billion loan guarantee program. Additionally, $265 million has been secured for the education, training, and advising of small businesses in dealing with COVID-19. 
  • U.S. Department of Treasury’s Loans and Guarantee Loans—Section 4002 makes Indian Tribes, and their businesses, eligible for the $454 billion loan guarantee fund. 
  • U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Education schools clarification—Section 3511 clarifies that all Bureau of Indian Education schools, including contract and grant schools, are eligible to receive certain U.S. Department of Education waivers due to COVID-19.
  • Special Diabetes Program for Indians—Section 3832 reauthorizes the SDPI Program to the end of November 2020. 
  • Native Inclusion of Education and Training Relating to Geriatrics—Section 753 awards grants to support the training of health care professionals who treat elderly Native Americans. $40.7 million was authorized in the Act for these grants to eligible entities, including those who prioritize serving older adults in Indian Tribes and tribal organizations.

The legislation also provided supplemental funding to help tribal communities respond to the COVID-19, including:

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
    • $100 million for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
      • $50 million for Facility Upgrades
      • $50 million for Additional Food Purchases
  • U.S. Department of the Interior
    • $453 million for Bureau of Indian Affairs, including Public Safety & Justice, to address COVID-19 on tribal lands
    • $69 million for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), of which no less than $20 million is for Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs)
  • U.S. Department of Education
    • $153.8 million for BIE schools
    • $105 million for Institutions of Higher Education, which includes Tribal Colleges and Universities funding
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    • Of the $1.032 billion in funding, the IHS resources will be allocated for:
      • Up to $65 million for Electronic Health Record Stabilization
      • Not less than $450 million for Tribal shares and contracts with Urban Indian Organizations
      • Up to $125 million may be transferred to and merged with the “Indian Health Service, Indian Health Facilities” account
      • All remaining funds are to be used at the discretion of the Director of the Indian Health Service
    • $15 million for Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration Health Surveillance and Program Support for Indian Tribes
    • $15 million for Indian Tribes to utilize the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness & Response’s Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund
    • $1.5 billion for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grants and cooperative agreements of which Indian Tribes, Tribal Organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations are eligible to apply
    • $125 million for CDC coronavirus funding directly to Indian Tribes, Tribal Organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
    • $200 million for the Indian Housing Block Grant Program
    • $100 million for Indian Community Development Block Grant Program
    • $5 million for Office of Public and Indian Housing
  • U.S. Department of Commerce
    • $300 million for assistance to Tribal subsistence, commercial, and charter fisheries affected by COVID-19.

The total increase in the supplemental appropriations funding is $2.692 billion, according to a release from Sen. Hoeven’s office, with more available through competitive grants along with state and local governments, bringing total resources to $10.314 billion for Indian Tribes.

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