Lawmakers Urge Trump To Protect Tribes Under COVID-19 Act

April 2, 2020
In The News

A bipartisan group of 19 U.S. senators and 12 representatives has asked President Donald Trump to ensure that agencies will uphold federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Native American tribes when implementing provisions of the newly enacted COVID-19 spending package.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led the group on Wednesday in urging Trump to guide the many agencies tasked with implementation of the landmark Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as tribes receive approximately $10 billion of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill signed into law on March 27.

Agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Small Business Administration, must respect the inherent sovereignty of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes while paying out critical funding and exercising their complicated new authorities, the lawmakers said in a letter to Trump.

"As the administration undertakes its work to implement this new law, we write to respectfully request that federal resources be deployed expeditiously to Indian Country in a manner consistent with the federal government's trust and treaty responsibilities, respect for tribal sovereignty and the principles of meaningful government-to-government consultation," the letter said.

The lawmakers sent the letter following the passage of the CARES Act, a $2 trillion package of relief measures aimed at supporting jobless Americans, boosting business activity and providing resources for health care workers struggling to treat COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The tribes' $10 billion share of the CARES Act includes $8 billion for a "stabilization fund" to support tribal governments dealing with the pandemic by providing resources for them to help health care providers, small businesses, schools, communities and individuals mitigate the impact of the virus.

The $8 billion fund will pay for "emergency relief to tribal governments and offset costs incurred by Indian tribes due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and one of the lawmakers who signed the letter to Trump, said in a statement on March 26.

According to Udall's office, the Indian Health Service is already aware of nearly 200 cases of COVID-19 in Indian Country as of Thursday, and tribes and urban Indian health organizations are worried that federal response efforts and resources won't reach them.

"Additionally, Indian tribes are reporting severe coronavirus-related economic impacts on their tribally owned businesses and assets, which provide their sole source of government revenue as tribes do not have a tax base like state or local governments," Udall's office said.

Tribes' anxiety around delivery of federal aid is exacerbated, because delivery of those resources was problematic during the Zika, Ebola, H1N1 and SARS outbreaks, the office said.

Five Senate Republicans, 14 Senate Democrats, eight House Democrats and four House Republicans signed the letter.

The senators who signed, in addition to Udall and Hoeven, are Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Kamala Harris; D-Calif., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Patty Murray, D-Wash., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Tina Smith, D-Minn., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The letter is also signed by U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., Paul Cook, R-Calif., Sharice Davids, D-Kan., Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., Deb Haaland, D-N.M., David Joyce, R-Ohio, Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Betty McCollum, D-Minn., Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., and Don Young, R-Alaska.