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Amid COVID-19 outbreak, Indian Country pushes for its share of federal help, funds

A slew of Native American organizations, groups and stakeholders have been in contact with federal lawmakers and officials as the fallout from the COVID-19 public health emergency continues to unfold.

At issue is ensuring Indian Country is not left out or shortchanged in relief efforts for both health care and economic needs.

The Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) is one of the groups that has taken a lead to keep tribal leaders appraised on the fast-moving pace of bills passed and bills considered in Congress and signed by the president.

The following is a timeline and summary of coordinated actions of national and regional Native organizations as of March 19.

Indian Country is working to make sure Native American relief is included in slew of legislation. (courtesy photo)

March 6: The “Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020” was signed into law. The legislation provided at least $40 million for “tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian health organizations, or health service providers to tribes, to carry out surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, infection control, mitigation, communications, and other preparedness and response activities.” A summary can be found here.

March 7: The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) submitted a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services advising how the $40 million tribal set-aside could best be distributed to get needed resources to Indian Country quickly and efficiently. The letter is available here.

March 17:  NAFOA, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and NIHB convened a “Tribal Leader Town Hall” on the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss updates and policy implications. Nearly 500 people participated in the webinar. A recording can be found here.

A PDF of the slides that were presented can be found here

March 18: The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” was signed into law. The legislation guarantees free coronavirus testing, establishes paid sick leave, enhances unemployment insurance, expands food security initiatives and increases federal Medicaid funding. The act specifically allocates $64 million to the Indian Health Service (IHS) to cover the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing for Native Americans receiving care through IHS or through an urban Indian health organization. The act ensures coverage of testing for COVID-19 at no cost for Native Americans receiving contract health services. Additionally, it provides nutrition services for older Native Americans. A summary can be found here.

In progress: Congress is working through a third relief package that is expected to pass soon. It is slated to provide $1.2 trillion dollars in relief to individuals, governments and industries. The tribal priorities Indian Country is advocating for are focused on health care and health-system capacity, economic development and governance. NAFOA and others have been working with Senate and House offices, both Republican and Democrat, to ensure that tribes are meaningfully included in the package.
In addition, Congress is expected to pass several more phases of legislation over the coming weeks and months.

More is at NAFOA.org.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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