Indianz.Com Video: Navajo Nation #Coronavirus

Coronavirus relief coming to Indian Country with passage of bipartisan legislation

With the number of positive COVID-19 cases rising in tribal communities, Indian Country will finally see billions of dollars in relief from a major coronavirus package almost over the finish line on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. Senate late Wednesday voted 96-0 to pass H.R.748, a bipartisan bill that brings $8 billion directly to tribal governments, plus $2 billion for federal programs that serve tribal nations. The U.S. House of Representatives must now take action before the measure can be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

"These are key victories but we're not done," Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a floor speech in the afternoon. "We must uphold our trust and treaty responsibilities to all American Indians and Alaska Natives."

"So Congress must do more to respond to the unique COVID-19-related public health and economic crises in Indian Country"

“We must ensure Indian Country has equal access to federal coronavirus resources," Udall said at the conclusion of his speech.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico): Udall Speaks on Senate Floor to Call for Passage of Third Coronavirus Package - March 25, 2020

Udall pointed out that the Navajo Nation, home of the largest reservation in the United States, has been hit hard by the coronavirus. The tribe has seen an exponential growth in positive COVID-19 cases in just the past several days, with a huge spike confirmed in counties in New Mexico and in Arizona as the bill was being debated thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.

“What this means for the Navajo people is this: We must continue to work together, as a Nation, to fight back the spread of COVID-19," Seth Damon, Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, said late Wednesday night after the measure was approved in the Senate. " We must support each other and provide the encouragement to our children, our relatives and our elders to stay healthy."

With 69 confirmed cases so safe, Navajo Nation isn't the only area being hit. Slowly but surely, more tribes and more Indian Health Service facilities are reporting positive COVID-19 results in their communities, where daily life has ground to a halt as services and programs are being curtailed and more people are being told -- and even ordered -- to stay at home.

"This is the most important time -- the calm, perhaps before the storm," Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community, where two cases have been confirmed on the reservation in Arizona, said in a video message on Wednesday night.

"I want to remind all of us that the best way to treat a patient with COVID-19 is to prevent them from having it in the first place," said Dr. Anthony Santiago, the chief medical officer at the Gila River Health Care, emphasizing social distancing, hand washing and limited trips as key to preventing the spread of the disease, for which there is no known cure.


Posted by Gila River Indian Community on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

According to IHS data as of the evening of March 24, more than 1,800 people have been tested for the coronavirus. Most of the results have returned negative, though more than 900 tests are still being processed.

The numbers, however, are incomplete, as facilities run by tribes through self-determination contracts or self-governance compacts are not required to report coronavirus testing data to the IHS. Neither are urban Indian health care providers.

"This is a rapidly evolving situation and the IHS will provide updated information as it becomes available and is verified," the agency cautions on its website.

With the expected enactment of the coronavirus relief package, tribes and federal agencies that serve their communities stand to benefit. Of $150 billion relief fund for local governments, Indian nations will receive $8 billion to address the economic, health, social and other impacts of the pandemic.

“Our tribes are already feeling significant strain," said Sen. Martha McSally (R-Arizona), a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs who helped push for the set-aside. "This legislation provides immediate cash relief and strong assistance to tribal communities impacted by this so workers and families can pay their bills.”

Additionally, about $2 billion will flow to federal agencies, with the IHS set to receive $1.032 billion. A "significant" portion, according to Sen. Udall, will be directed to tribes for their self-determination contracts and self-governance compacts, as well as to urban Indian providers.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is set to receive $453 million to help tribes with public safety needs and to help them purchase protective equipment for their communities. This will come in the form of tribal priority allocations, known as TPA within the agency.

Another $327 million would go to the Bureau of Indian Education. The agency, which is now funded separately from the BIA by Congress, has been forced to close 183 schools across the nation as a result of the coronavirus. Tribal colleges and universities will be able to benefit from the influx, according to lawmakers.

The package also includes $305 million for Indian housing programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There's also $100 million for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations at the Department of Agriculture.

"By working together to pass this important piece of legislation, we are providing critical assistance to millions of American Indians and Alaska Natives across the country," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affair. "Now, Indian tribes will be better able to help their communities’ small businesses, schools, hospitals and clinics weather the challenges of COVID-19."

STAY HOME, STAY SAFE, SAVE LIVES 03.25.20 This graph shows the increase in COVID-19 cases since the first case was...

Posted by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is among those seeing major upheaval. The tribe, which is the largest east of the Mississippi River, has been forced to curtail critical operations and shut down crucial economic development enterprises, including hotels and casinos, in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus on its homelands in Michigan.

"We are all at risk so I am grateful that the U.S. Senate enacted the $2 trillion relief package," Dr. Aaron Payment, the tribe's chairperson, told Indianz.Com on Wednesday night.

But Payment, who also serves as vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, noted that $8 billion isn't nearly enough to address the needs in communities that have long been under-served. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who is one of the first two Native women in Congress, had called for a $20 billion relief fund.

"While not great, we were not left out," said Payment.

"I applaud NCAI and the National Indian Health Board for their advocacy and our friends in Congress who understand and respect that we pre-paid for the federal treaty and trust responsibility," Payment added.

The coronavirus bill is expected to pass the House on Friday. During a tribal leader town hall co-hosted by NCAI, NIHB, the Native American Finance Officers Association and other Indian organizations, Sen. McSally urged the other chamber to take quick action.

"This a big deal and I'm glad we were able to deliver on that," McSally told tribal leaders. She said she "went to the mat" to ensure Indian Country was included in the final package.

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