WASHINGTON — The delays in tribes receiving Coronavirus Relief Fund payments allocated under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act have caused some tribes to seek extensions to spend the money. As it stands now, funds received from the CARES Act must be spent by tribes by December 30, 2020.

The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020, allocating $8 billion for tribal governments under the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Tribes across America did not receive any funds until May 5, 2020, well after the bill’s statutory deadline.

The Navajo Nation received over $600 million and if an extension is not granted, monies left unspent the deadline must be returned to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

“The U.S. Department of Treasury failed Indian Country by delaying the disbursement of funds by over three months. Now, we are working around the clock to expedite the use of the CARES Act funds to address immediate needs and for the long-term benefit of our Navajo people,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said.

“We respectfully request Congress to pass this measure to provide Tribal nations more time for the proper expenditure of these funds. Indian Country is devastated by COVID-19 and due to the long years of neglect of infrastructure it will take much longer to get to a level of providing sufficient care.”

On Thursday, July 9, Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ-01) introduced bipartisan legislation that would extend the coverage of payments allocated under the CARES Act for two years. The legislation would extend the deadline for tribal governments for two years from December 30, 2020 to December 30, 2022. The bill is cosponsored by Congressman Paul Cook (R-CA-08).

“Bureaucratic red tape and lack of critical attention to the matter at federal agencies forced sovereign tribal nations across Arizona’s First Congressional District to wait over a month for the first tranche of CARES Act funding to arrive, and tribes still face significant hurdles to spending and distributing the funding they were promised, ” O’Halleran said. “We need to extend the deadline by which tribal governments must spend Coronavirus Relief Fund payments so that each nation has adequate time to debate and discuss within their governing bodies, just as we did, and allocate the monies they are owed to most effectively address this pandemic head-on.”

“The U.S. Department of Treasury failed Indian Country by delaying the disbursement of funds by over three months,” Nez said. “Now, we are working around the clock to expedite the use of the CARES Act funds to address immediate needs and for the long-term benefit of our Navajo people. We respectfully request Congress to pass this measure to provide Tribal nations more time for the proper expenditure of these funds. 

“Indian Country is devastated by COVID-19 and due to the long years of neglect of infrastructure it will take much longer to get to a level of providing sufficient care,” he said. 

“I want to thank Congressman O'Halleran and Congressman Cook for championing this important piece of legislation,” Chairman Nuvangyaoma of the Hopi Tribe said. “The Coronavirus Relief Fund will allow my Tribe to finally address the water, health, and broadband infrastructure needs that have plagued us for years and that have only been magnified as we confront COVID-19. Congress should empower Indian Country with more time so that we are able to deploy these resources in a responsible manner to confront the many infrastructure challenges that we face and that have hindered our abilities to respond to the pandemic.”

View the bill text, HERE.

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Author: Native News Online Staff