O’Halleran Introduces Bill to Extend Deadline for Tribes to Spend CARES Act Funding

July 9, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON—Today, Congressman Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01) introduced bipartisan legislation that would extend the coverage of Coronavirus Relief Fund payments allocated under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to tribal governments from December 30, 2020 to December 30, 2022. The bill is cosponsored by Congressman Paul Cook (R-CA-08).

The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020, allocating $8 billion for tribal governments under the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Tribes across America did not receive any funds until May 5, 2020, well after the bill’s statutory deadline. During this time, the Navajo Nation in Arizona’s First Congressional District became the most concentrated COVID-19 hotspot in the nation.

“Bureaucratic red tape and lack of critical attention to the matter at federal agencies forced sovereign tribal nations across Arizona’s First Congressional District to wait over a month for the first tranche of CARES Act funding to arrive, and tribes still face significant hurdles to spending and distributing the funding they were promised, ” said O’Halleran.“We need to extend the deadline by which tribal governments must spend Coronavirus Relief Fund payments so that each nation has adequate time to debate and discuss within their governing bodies, just as we did, and allocate the monies they are owed to most effectively address this pandemic head-on.”

“As the ranking member on the Indigenous Peoples of the United States Subcommittee, I’m particularly sensitive to the struggles that tribes are facing during this unprecedented public health crisis,” said Cook. “This legislation will provide a much-needed extension to Indian Country so that tribal governments can determine how to best use these vital resources to respond to the pandemic.”

“We extend our appreciation and gratitude to Congressman O’Halleran for his leadership for introducing this important measure that would extend the Coronavirus Relief Fund Deadline by two years or until 2022,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “The U.S. Department of Treasury failed Indian Country by delaying the disbursement of funds by over three months. Now, we are working around the clock to expedite the use of the CARES Act funds to address immediate needs and for the long-term benefit of our Navajo people. We respectfully request Congress to pass this measure to provide Tribal nations more time for the proper expenditure of these funds. Indian Country is devastated by COVID-19 and due to the long years of neglect of infrastructure it will take much longer to get to a level of providing sufficient care.” 

“I want to thank Congressman O'Halleran and Congressman Cook for championing this important piece of legislation,” said Chairman Nuvangyaoma of the Hopi Tribe. “Indian Country did not receive its Coronavirus Relief Fund distributions until well after the statutory deadline and months after the states received their distributions. It is only fair that Indian Country should be allocated additional time. The Coronavirus Relief Fund will allow my Tribe to finally address the water, health, and broadband infrastructure needs that have plagued us for years and that have only been magnified as we confront COVID-19. Congress should empower Indian Country with more time so that we are able to deploy these resources in a responsible manner to confront the many infrastructure challenges that we face and that have hindered our abilities to respond to the pandemic.”

View the bill text, HERE.

BACKGROUND:

As early as March 20, O’Halleran warned Governor Doug Ducey and Vice President Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, that tribal communities were being overlooked in our national COVID-19 response. He wrote to the Task Force again nine days later when no action was taken.

After the CARES Act passed, O’Halleran again and again called on the federal agencies responsible to act swiftly in their distribution of funding and drew national attention to the dire situation on the Navajo Nation. O’Halleran’s calls were soon echoed by members throughout Congress.

Yesterday, O'Halleran spoke in a House Energy and Commerce Full Committee hearing on on the needs of tribal communities during COVID-19 and beyond. View his remarks HERE

For a full list of actions O’Halleran has taken for tribes during COVID-19, CLICK HERE.

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