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WASHINGTON — In addition to news already covered during the previous week, each Sunday Native News Online provides an overview of activity in Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country during the past week.

Most members of Congress were home in their district’s this past week. Members of the Biden administration spent their time preparing for the White House Tribal Nations Summit that is being held virtually on Monday and Tuesday this week.

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Harvard Researchers Blast Treasury’s American Rescue Plan Act Tribal Distribution

Tribal Business News, Native News Online’s sister publication, reported on Monday a new policy paper from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development paints a scathing picture of the U.S. Treasury Department’s allocations related to the $20 billion tribal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

According to the Nov. 3 paper, the allocations earlier this year were distributed to tribes in an unfair way that went against the progressive goals of the Biden administration and the Democratic Congress that passed ARPA via reconciliation.

“We find that the allocations that have been made are grossly inequitable and contrary to the policy objectives of Congress, the Biden Administration, and the Treasury Department itself,” the authors wrote in the executive summary of the 83-page paper.

Read more

President to Sign Infrastructure and Jobs Act on Monday

President Joe Biden on Monday will sign the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 2684) that is part of the president’s new vision for revitalization in America. The Act includes more than $15 billion in Tribal specific funding measures. It also provides an additional $146.3 billion in competitive grant and cooperative agreement funding for Tribal Nations and Tribal organizations.

Investment areas include transportation, water, sanitation, energy, environmental restoration, telecommunications, and climate resiliency. 

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) analyzed the tribal specific provisions. Native News Online edited the analsis for brevity:

Environmental Sustainability                                            

Divisions D and J of H.R. 3684 authorize and reauthorize environmental sustainability programs and associated spending between Fiscal Year 2022 to Fiscal Year 2026. Within Division D, Tribal Nations and Organizations are eligible for $22 billion to develop or expand projects, including those focused on electric grid resiliency, mine reclamation, orphaned well site remediation, wildfire risk reduction, and ecological restoration. 

In Division J, Tribal Nations and Organizations are eligible for $5.4 billion to develop or expand projects, including climate resilience planning, community relocation, hazardous waste, ocean management, and salmon recovery initiatives.                                                                                                                            
There is $216 million allocated specifically for tribal climate resilience, adaptation, mitigation, and community relocation efforts, and $150 million tribal set-aside for orphaned well site plugging remediation and restoration.                                             

There is also $27.9 billion that is eligible as competitive grant and cooperative agreement funding for Tribal Nations and organizations administered by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce (i.e. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration), Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.               

Transportation                                    

Surface transportation programs and associated spending are reauthourized over five years, Fiscal Years (FY) 2022-2026. As a five-year authorizing bill, these sections create or modify federal programs and authorize Congressional Appropriators to spend amounts in current and future appropriations cycles. The total amount authorized in this bill for tribal programs, is approximately $4.7 billion over five years, with an additional $925 million for the Tribal Transportation Facility Bridges program (23 U.S.C. § 202(d)) over five years as supplemental appropriations.

                                                  

An Office of Tribal Government Affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation and an Assistant Secretary for Tribal Government Affairs will also be established. Authorized spending amounts for tribal programs and set asides over five years include:

  • $3.01 billion for the Tribal Transportation Program (TTP)
    $887.5 million for tribal projects from the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program
  • $270 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Road Maintenance Program
  • $229.1 million for the Public Transportation on Indian Reservations (“Tribal Transit”) Program
  • $150 million for a Tribal High Priority Projects Program
  • $100 million for the Bridge Investment Program tribal set aside
  • $28 million for a transportation resiliency program set aside

Various other programs expanding tribal sovereignty and tribal applicant eligibility to receive funding for transportation, environmental sustainability, fuels, freight, and rail programs.

Water                                                                                                                                         

  • Divisions E, D provide a total of approximately $3.6 billion in direct tribal set-asides and more than $1 billion in additional competitive grant funding for which Tribal Nations are eligible to apply. This funding addresses an enormous backlog of water projects in Tribal communities including water settlements, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and sanitation projects.
                                                                           
  • Division J of this bill authorizes approximately $55.4 billion in appropriations funding to States and Tribes through the EPA. This funding includes more than $48 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Fund Capitalization Grants for which Tribes are allocated a 2 percent set-aside. Tribal Specific funding highlights related to water include:
  • Authorizes $2.5 billion to complete all currently-authorized Indian water rights settlements, including settlements for the Blackfeet, Crow, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
  • Authorizes $270 million over 6 years to implement eligible projects to improve water quality and sanitation under the EPA’s Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program$290 million over five years to administer grants to Alaska to Improve Sanitation in Rural and Native Villages;
  • $200 million over five years in grants for lead testing, reduction, and compliance monitoring in grants to states and tribal education agencies for schools$50 million for Storm water Infrastructure Technology;
  • $100 million in competitive grants for the design, implementation, and monitoring of conservation outcomes of habitat restoration projects that improve watershed health in a river basin that was adversely impacted by a Bureau of Reclamation water project; and
  • Authorizes more than $1.7 billion in Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund Tribal set-asides.

Broadband
Division F and J of this bill authorize an approximate total of $17.3 billion in Tribal set-asides and eligible funding opportunities for telecommunications and broadband projects for Tribal Nations.

  • $2 billion in additional funding to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program administered by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration within the Department of Commerce
  • $14.4 million set-aside every year for FY 22-26 through the Department of Commerce’s State Digital Equity Capacity Grant
  • Program, totaling $72 million in grant funding to tribes over 5 years
  • $12.5 million set aside every year for FY 22-26 through the Department of Commerce’s Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, totaling $62.5 million in grant funding to tribes over 5 years
  • $1 billion for competitive Middle Mile Infrastructure Grants granted by the Department of Commerce and Federal Communications Commission for which Tribal Nations are eligible recipients
  • $14.2 billion in additional funding and extension of the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program -- formerly known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit -- for which telecommunications consumers living on Tribal Lands are eligible

Health

$3.5 billion will be provided over five years for much needed improvements and construction for IHS sanitation facilities. The bill also allows for UIOs to use their line item funding for facilities improvements.                                              

Homeland Security and Emergency Management                                           

Divisions G, Title IV of H.R. 3684 establishes the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program and authorizes funding for four years, Fiscal Years (FY) 2022-2025. Tribal governments will receive a three percent set aside, which will total $30 million over four years. The Secretary of Homeland Security will enter into consultation with the Secretary of the Interior and Tribal governments to determine how to apportion the funds to Tribal governments, amend grant requirements as needed, and whether to waive the non-federal cost share. The Department of Homeland Security is also required to submit a report to Congress on the cybersecurity needs of Tribal governments within two years.                                   

Division G, Title IV permits the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Director to declare a significant cybersecurity incident for a Tribal Nation. The significant cyber security incident must have occurred or is likely to occur in order for it to be declared an incident. Once the Declaration is declared, the Tribal Nation is eligible to receive funding to respond to and recover from the cybersecurity incident, receive technical assistance, or enter into a cooperative agreement.                                    

Division J, Title V appropriates $1 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, which supports tribal major disaster declarations and tribal emergency disaster declarations.                                           

Offsets                                                 

Divisions H and I extend the authority to spend from the Highway Trust Fund, the primary source of funding for tribal transportation programs, through FY 2026. Highway-related taxes, including the gas tax, were extended through FY 2028, and no gas tax substitutes were enacted such as user fees on electric vehicles. Instead, the Highway Trust Fund will remain solvent through an estimated $118 billion transfer from the U.S. Department of the Treasury funds otherwise not appropriated.

Sen. Alex Padilla Announces Over $13 Million in COVID-19 Relief for California Tribes

On Monday, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) announced that over $13 million was awarded through a dozen grants to help tribal governments throughout California respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. These Indian Community Development Block Grants are funded by the American Rescue Plan that Sen. Padilla voted to pass in the Senate and President Biden signed into law earlier this year.

Additional details on the 12 grants awarded to Tribal governments in California are available here.

“I’m proud that the American Rescue Plan continues to deliver resources for Tribal communities who have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sen. Padilla said. “This funding will bring needed relief by assisting Tribal governments with carrying out urgent health and safety improvements to respond to the pandemic and their communities’ needs.  These grants will support Tribal Nations across California as they create needed health care facilities, rehabilitate and develop new housing, and train emergency responders and health care workers.”

The grant recipients in California are:

  • Blue Lake Rancheria
  • Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians
  • Hoopa Valley Tribe 
  • Karuk Tribe
  • Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe
  • Mesa Grande Indian Housing Authority
  • Northern Circle Indian Housing Authority, Manchester Band of Pomo Indians
  • Northern Circle Indian Housing Authority, Guidiville Indian Rancheria
  • Northern Circle Indian Housing Authority, Sherwood Valley Rancheria 
  • Robinson Rancheria Citizens Business Council
  • Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians
  • Yurok Indian Housing Authority

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Public and Indian Housing program is funding 68 of these awards to Indian tribes and tribal organizations across the country, totaling $73,941,406.

This is the first phase of Indian Community Development Block Grants funded by the American Rescue Plan. Applications will be considered and awarded in three phases.

FCC License Renewals Due December 1

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license renewal applications for radio stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and for TV stations licensed to Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado must be filed by December 1. 

License renewals are due every 8 years, and must be filed 4 months before the license expires.

Annual EEO Public File Reports are due to be posted to the online public inspection files and the websites of stations with five or more fulltime employees licensed in Alabama, Georgia, Minnesota, N. Dakota, S. Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont not later than December 1, 2021. 

The FCC allows stations to end their reporting period up to 10 days prior to the upload deadline – e.g., the report can cover November 21, 2020 through November 20, 2021.

Untimely or absent EEO filings are very likely to be noticed by FCC staff examining renewals, so meeting this deadline is important.  

Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), a Michigan State University student who is interning with Native News Online, contributed to these briefs.

 

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