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Senators: Give tribes more access to CARES Act funds

Even as some states continue to emerge from various Covid-19 restrictions, the ongoing hit to the service, tourism and hospitality industries remains profound.

Those impacts are especially felt among tribal enterprises within Indian Country – many of which rely heavily on those sectors to fund government operations, programs and services.

Because the situation is still a bleak one, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington, D.C., has issued a call for an increase in access for tribal governments to two specific lending programs that were created under the CARES Act.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill that was passed in March. A second stimulus bill has been stalled in Congress for months.

The group of lawmakers calling for the greater lending access for tribes consist of four senators: Tom Udall, D-NM, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; John Hoeven, R-ND, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

The senators sent a letter Sept. 16 to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Jerome Powell, encouraging them to take action on behalf of tribes.

“Tribes and tribally-owned businesses from across Indian Country have been severely impacted by the economic strains brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the letter reads. “These businesses, from hotels, conference centers, restaurants, and entertainment venues to gas stations and shopping malls, are some of the biggest employers and income generators for tribal and nearby non-tribal communities.”

The letter stressed that unlike other governments, Tribes do not have traditional tax bases that are used to generate government revenue.

“Instead, Tribes rely on their businesses to generate revenue for government operations and essential services, such as health care, public safety and social services for their communities,” the senators wrote.

The specific outreach to Mnuchin and Powell is due to a provision in the CARES Act that gives the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board the authority to address two specific programs were created under their authority – the Main Street Lending Program (MSLP) for corporations and the Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF) for governments.

Both programs provide relief by facilitating loans. It’s access to these two programs that the lawmakers want to see expanded for Tribes.

“Further, by expressly including Indian Tribes in the definition of ‘States,’ Congress gave Treasury broad authority to account for the unique financing needs of Tribal governments and their enterprises,” the letter reads.

In the letter, the bipartisan group of senators also expressed appreciation for the Department of Treasury for its previous consideration of the particular lending challenges Tribes face.

“[But] due to the unique nature of Tribal governments and Tribal enterprise debts, Tribes and their businesses are unable to fully utilize the MSLP and the MLF. Accordingly, we encourage you to provide Tribes and Tribally-owned businesses greater access to the MSLP and MLF,” the senators concluded in the letter.

As of press time, there had not been an official response to the letter from Mnuchin or Powell.

For more information, go to indian.senate.gov.

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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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