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‘Playbook’ outlines funding for tribes in Biden bill


Last week, the Biden administration announced the breakdown of major funding available for tribes in the bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including a massive $13 billion set aside for Indian Country.

The law also makes tribes eligible to apply for billions of dollars more in discretionary, formula, and other infrastructure grant funding available through about 150 federal programs.

“This investment in Indian Country, while long overdue, is unprecedented,” said Bryan Newland, Interior Department assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, in a June 1 press conference.

“In total, this funding represents the single largest investment in tribal infrastructure ever, in the history of this country, with more than $13 billion that will expand access to high-speed internet, improve roads and bridges, and take action to combat the climate crisis that threatens too many tribal communities,” he said.

In order to help tribal applicants navigate the full range of funds available, the Biden administration also released its “Tribal Playbook,” a roadmap that provides an overview of the “what, when, where, and how” tribes can apply for funds available through the law.

In the past six months since the infrastructure law was signed, Newland said the DOI has been conducting government-to-government consultations with tribes to better understand their needs, concerns and how the funds could best serve tribal communities.

“We heard Indian Country loud and clear about the need for more information about available funding, capacity building, technical assistance and speeding up the permitting process,” said Newland.

“With the Tribal Playbook, we’re putting additional tools into the hands of tribal communities so that we can ensure these funds meet existing challenges and have long lasting impacts for the communities they serve,” he said.

The $13 billion set aside for Indian Country includes:

  • $3.5 bill for Health and Human Services Department IHS Sanitation Facilities Construction Program to build infrastructure to ensure safe drinking water, reliable sewage systems and solid waste disposal facilities.
  • $3 billion for the Department of Transportation Tribal Transportation Program to increase safety, mobility, and access for tribal communities.
  • $2.5 billion to the Department of the Interior to satisfy federal obligations under existing Indian Water Rights Settlements and those reached by Nov. 15, 2022.
  • $2 billion for Department of Commerce Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program that invests in broadband infrastructure, distance learning, and telehealth services.
  • $900 million for EPA’s Clean and Drinking Water grants.
  • $800 million for DOT to replace or improve or construct bridges on tribal lands.
  • $300 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for dam safety and water sanitation facilities.
  • $200 million for the DOI to pursue climate-resiliency initiatives.
  • $200 million for the DOI to plug, cap and remediate orphaned oil and gas wells on tribal lands.

“Building a better America requires these funds to reach tribal communities that have been left behind for far too long,” said Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure implementation coordinator.

In Indian Country, this means providing high-speed internet for all citizens, clean drinking water in all homes, resources for tribal transportation programs, upgrading electric transmission infrastructure, fortifying climate resiliency and preserving land and natural resources, said Landrieu.

Some of $13 billion funding has already been earmarked by the departments tasked with administering the funds.

For example, IHS announced that it allocated the first installment of $700 million to be paid over five years (2022-2026), for a total of $3.5 billion, to fulfill the backlog of projects listed in the IHS Sanitation Facilities Construction Program and to ensure a safe supply of drinking water, reliable sewage systems and solid waste facilities for tribes.

A 2013 IHS study found that nearly 1 in 10 tribal households lack safe drinking water supplies and adequate waste disposal facilities compared to less than 1% of all homes across the country.

“We are one step closer to addressing sanitation deficiencies in American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Improving access to safe water and wastewater disposal will improve health outcomes for American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

Barrera said the historic infrastructure investment is in response to the longstanding recommendations of tribal leaders shared in consultation with HHS and IHS.

According to Becerra, the funds will provide about 71,000 American Indian and Alaska Native homes with critical services like water wells and onsite wastewater disposal systems and connections to community water supply and wastewater disposal systems.

The EPA’s Office of Water also will send an additional $154 million this year to tribes for water projects through its Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, including for replacement of lead pipes and address harmful pollutants, among other eligible uses.

Through the DOI, Newland said that of the $1.7 billion to fulfill Indian Water Rights Settlements, the first allotment of $29 million is for power irrigation and dam safety, $46 million to address climate change in Indigenous communities and $83 million for high-speed internet have already been deployed from the $13 billion set-aside.

The DOI also announced awards of $420 million for rural water projects for drought resilience and $240 million for aging water infrastructure through the Bureau of Reclamation.

“These are just some of the examples of how the infrastructure law is having a profound and positive impact on the lives of families and tribal communities across the country by safeguarding local water supply, promoting local climate adaptation efforts, and supporting tribal self-governance,” said Newland.

Newland said the DOI has also issued a national policy memo directing the BIA to prioritize permitting for infrastructure projects so that these critical dollars can reach Indian Country as quickly as possible.


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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