Bill Seeks to Alleviate Time Crunch for Tribes to Deploy COVID Relief Funds

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez: “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. 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.” (Google Images)

The dissonance between Tribes’ urgent needs for federal assistance to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the federal delay in releasing funds has been consequential. 

As National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp, who is also president of the Quinault Indian Nation, testified on July 8th before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: “We are at the point now where we are among the most vulnerable, we are disproportionately impacted and it is an outrage that at this point we still do not have the funding that Congress appropriated three months ago.” 

The delayed release of funds has also led to a time crunch for dispersing the money. While some funds need to be allocated to Tribal departments immediately, Tribes need leverage on how and when to deploy the money. Long-term impacts of the pandemic are still uncertain.

A bipartisan pair of U.S. House of Representatives members have taken action to address this. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., and Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., introduced H.R. 7557 on Thursday. The bill seeks to extend the window for Tribal governments to spend funding received as part of the $8 billion Tribal stabilization fund, via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

The bill pushes back the deadline for Tribes to spend monies received from December 30th to the end of 2022.

O’Halleran stated: “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.

“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.”

COVID-19 cases, for instance, continue to surge in pockets of Indian Country, such as in Arizona, impacting the Navajo and Hopi Nations, in particular. 

“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,” said Hopi Tribal Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma.

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