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A big shot in the arm: With passage of American Rescue Plan, $20 billion for tribes on the way

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz.

More help is on the way in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for all who have suffered the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a party line vote supported by Democrats, the bill passed through the U.S. Senate on Saturday (50-49) with some revisions and was approved in the House on Wednesday by the vote of 220-211. Biden said he will sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

The package includes $1,400 direct payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 and $20 billion for federally recognized tribal governments. It also extends weekly unemployment benefits of $300 through September.

“This nation has suffered too much for too long,” Biden said on Saturday. “Everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and meet the most urgent needs of the nation.”

Biden said the direct payments to the 85% of U.S. citizens will start going out in March.

“HR 1319 contains $20 billion for tribal governments to respond to COVID-19 and mitigate the negative economic impacts,” said Navajo Nation Washington Office Executive Director Santee Lewis.

“At this time, we do not know how much the Navajo Nation will be receiving,” she said, “however, Navajo leadership supports a fair, equitable formula distribution that considers land base, population, number of employees, and COVID impact on tribal governments.”

Speaker Seth Damon said it has taken critical public and private partnerships to reach this moment in the Navajo Nation’s fight against the coronavirus and rebuilding the Nation.

“We need every resource possible going forward to ensure a third wave never comes to the Navajo people and to establish a strong recovery,” he said.

Damon said the Council will continue to explore funding for water, power, broadband and health care projects, in addition to housing, transportation and all other important aspects of the public health crisis.

“The American Rescue Plan provides funding for tribal nations at significant levels and with that,” Damon said, “the Council will also explore additional hardship assistance options, water access funding, important reimbursements that protect the Navajo people’s money and more.”

Lewis said of the set aside for tribes, $1 billion is to be allocated equally among tribes while the remaining $19 billion will be distributed by a formula yet to be determined by Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.

“The Navajo Nation hopes to engage with the secretary of the Treasury to weigh in on the distribution as soon as possible to receive its proportionate share and utilize such funds for much needed infrastructure projects,” said Lewis.

HR 1319 also authorizes funds to be used to replace tribal revenues that were lost, delayed, or decreased as of Jan. 27, 2020, as a result of COVID-19, said Lewis.

On Tuesday, President Jonathan Nez said in anticipation of the passage of the American Rescue Plan his office has worked diligently with congressional members and staff to develop preliminary recommendations for a funding formula for tribes.

“As of today, we have nearly 30,000 reported infections of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic nearly one year ago, and we have lost 1,203 of our Navajo people,” said Nez. “We realize that there are great needs in our communities, immediate and long term.”

The president’s office recommends that the $20 billion for tribes be distributed with 40% based on population, 20% based on land base, 20% based on number of employees, and 20% based on COVID-19 impacts.

Of the $8 billion allocated to tribes in the CARES Act last year, 60% was distributed based on population data and 40% by the number of tribal employees and how hard each tribe was hit by COVID-19. In total the Navajo Nation received $714 million in 2020.

“With the CARES Act, we had a very short timeframe to expend the funds due to the original deadline that was included in the bill enacted by Congress, but we did our best to connect homes to electricity, provide water to homes, strengthen broadband, and provide direct financial assistance to our Navajo people,” said Nez.

“The current bill being considered would provide a greater timeframe to use the funds,” he said, “which will allow us to plan more efficiently, complete more projects and provide more long-term assistance.”

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said with a total of more than $31 billion for tribal governments and programs, the American Rescue Plan delivers the largest one-time investment to Native communities in history.

In addition to the $20 billion for tribal governments, the bill includes more than $6 billion for Native health care and COVID-19 mitigation, $1.2 billion for tribal housing, $1.1 billion for Native education programs, $1 billion for Native family assistance, $900 million for Bureau of Indian Affairs’ programs, $600 million for critical economic and infrastructure investments, $20 million to preserve Native languages, and $19 million to combat domestic violence.

“This historic funding is a down payment on the federal government’s trust responsibility to Native communities and will empower American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians to tackle COVID-19’s impacts,” said Schatz.

Biden said the Rescue Plan will help speed up manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which should be available to everyone in the U.S. by mid-May.

Schools will have the funds to reopen safely, state and local governments will have the resources they need to recover, millions of adults and children suffering food insecurity will receive nutrition assistance and families will get help with rent and mortgages, he said.

“This plan puts us on a path to beating the virus, gives those families who are struggling the help, the breathing room they need in this moment and gives businesses a fighting chance to survive,” said Biden “This plan is historic. By passing this plan we’ll have proven that this government, this democracy does still work.”


About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst has been with the Navajo Times since July of 2018, and covers our Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats. Prior to joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.

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