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Covid-19 relief package directs $3.3B to tribes

Another contentious Congress is coming to an end in Washington, D.C., and with it hard fought spending bills and provisions that affect practically every corner of Indian Country.

Congress passed the $900 billion Covid-19 stimulus bill Dec. 20. President Trump signed it Dec. 27. It includes $3.3 billion in funds for tribes, including for vaccine distribution.

The package in its current form reauthorizes $284 billion in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP); $300 in weekly unemployment insurance for jobless workers through March 14, 2021; and $600 stimulus checks for every adult making up to $75,000 ($150,000 for couples), including $600 per child.

The Covid-19 relief is attached to a massive $1.4 trillion end of year funding package which includes funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS). There are additional funds in the fiscal year 2021 package for a broad variety of Indian Country programs and services.

SDPI, CARES Act extensions

For 15 months the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, or SDPI, has gone through six short-term extensions that have threatened its stability and effectiveness.

The crucial diabetes program, which the Seminole Tribe takes part in, has found a long-term extension in the funding package for three years – through the end of fiscal year 2023.

While it’s a win for Indian Country, the reauthorization did not include an increase in funding that had been sought by tribes and the National Indian Health Board. The annual funding remains at $150 million – the same level it’s seen since 2004.

News of another win came soon after the funding was passed. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, announced that the relief package also extends the deadline for tribes to spend CARES Act funds – until Dec. 31, 2021.

The CARES Act was the first massive stimulus package of $2.2 trillion that was passed in March. It included $8 billion for tribes, however many haven’t seen their full distributions and $300 million is tied up in litigation.
Udall said the funds from the second stimulus package are expected to see greater flexibility in distribution to tribes.

“Native Americans across the country continue to demonstrate incredible strength and resilience in the face of a pandemic that is disproportionately hurting their communities,” Udall said in a statement. “Tribal governments are doing everything in their power to protect their communities and elders from this pandemic. The federal government must step up to support these efforts and live up to its trust and treaty obligations.”

Udall pushed to have other Indian Country programs funded in the bill, including Native languages and culture initiatives and funds to help combat the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Other initiatives that are funded in the bill for Indian Country include broadband, public health, mental health services, telehealth, behavioral health, preventative care, housing assistance, education, education construction, child care, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Department of the Interior tribal programs, public safety, Indian arts and crafts enforcement and many more.

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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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