The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote today on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that delivers $10 billion in emergency aid to Tribes and Tribal organizations. The bulk of those funds, $8 billion, comprises the Tribal Stabilization Fund to provide emergency relief and offset costs incurred by Indian Tribes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill passed the U.S. Senate unanimously Wednesday with a 96-0 vote, and President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign it into law immediately.
The $10 billion to Tribes is part of the largest economic stimulus measure in modern history. “Tribes are on the front lines of this public health crisis,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, spelled out.
Tribal risk is exacerbated by the high prevalence of heart and respiratory disease among Native Americans, as well overcrowding on some Tribal reservations coupled with the remoteness of many Tribal land bases. Many reservation residents need to travel vast distances to obtain food and other essentials. “This is a serious situation that could have devastating effects on Indian Country,” National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) CEO Kevin Allis (Forest County Potawatomi Community) has underscored.
While the new coronavirus package sets aside $10 billion for Tribal governments, obtaining those funds is another story altogether.
Indian Country is still awaiting its stalled $40 million worth of federal emergency funds, locked up in bureaucratic limbo for weeks. It’s unclear when the Indian Health Service (IHS) and other Tribal health organizations will receive that money from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), part of the $8.3 billion bill signed by President Trump on March 6. That $8.3 billion went to federal entities: the Centers for Disease Control, Small Business Administration, and the Department of State among them.
“The Navajo Nation itself has appropriated $4 million of our own money … because their resources aren’t coming quick enough from the federal government,” Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Navajo Nation told the Daily Yonder.
Yesterday, the Navajo Nation reported 71 positive tests for COVID-19. Taking efforts to combat the spread of the virus into their own hands, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer approved three resolutions Thursday to expedite the acceptance of donations to help the Nation curtail the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, on March 20, the Navajo Nation Council unanimously passed emergency legislation requesting the Governor of New Mexico to activate the Naat’áanii Development Corporation – Molina Healthcare, Incorporated Indian Managed Care Entity to gain access to Medicaid dollars to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation.
“In this time of crisis, we need all the available resources we can get to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus on the Navajo Nation. The Council was wise in fast-tracking this initiative—Congress passed legislation increasing Medicaid by 6.2 percent to fight the coronavirus; however, that extra money is not impactful unless the NDC Managed Care Organization is able to access those funds. We can no longer be the forgotten population. We need the extra dollars and I strongly urge the Navajo President to sign the legislation,” Delegate Daniel Tso, chairman of the Navajo Nation Council’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee said.
When activated, the NDC MCO could get up to $40 million to fight the novel coronavirus and its impact.
Manley Begay, Jr., chairman of the Naat’áanii Development Corporation, urged President Nez to sign the legislation; He has 10 days to sign or veto the legislation.