Feds Ask Tribal Leaders How to Best Distribute $8B in Coronavirus Relief to Native Americans

Posted on: April 2, 2020, 02:38h. 

Last updated on: April 2, 2020, 02:59h.

The US Department of the Interior (DOI) is asking tribal leaders across the country to provide recommendations as to how $8 billion in coronavirus relief funding should be distributed to Native American governments.

tribal leaders coronavirus relief Native American
Tribal leaders are being sought out for comment on how the coronavirus money for Native Americans is dispersed. (Image: Indianz)

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), signed into law by President Donald Trump last Friday, sets aside an unprecedented $8 billion for Native Americans. Additionally, the $2.2 trillion stimulus package includes a $500 million allocation for the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The CARES Act provides a critical infusion of supplemental funding for Tribal Communities as we rapidly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney.

She added that the $8 billion earmarked for tribes “will provide urgent financial assistance.” With all tribal casino resorts shuttered in the US, numerous Native American governments have seen their main revenue streams evaporate.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) says there are 524 tribal casinos in the US.

Input Needed

Sweeney sent letters to tribal officials this week seeking their feedback.

Together with the US Department of Treasury, I seek your input on developing a methodology or formula to allocate the $8 billion to Tribal governments, as outlined in the CARES Act, and guidance on what qualifies as necessary expenditures incurred due to the coronavirus public health emergency,” Sweeney wrote.

Sweeney is holding two, three-hour online town halls with such leaders. They can also submit their feedback via email to her. The CARES Act mandates that the tribal funds be distributed by April 26.

According to research commissioned by the AGA in 2017, tribal gaming supported 635,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs, and generated a nearly $97 billion economic output that year.

“Without question, our gaming is hurting,” Muscogee Creek Nation spokesperson Jason Salsman told The Oklahoman. “We’ve got a $3.4 million payroll that we’re keeping up through the shutdown. We’ve got zero revenue coming in.”

The National Indian Gaming Commission says tribal casinos reported gross gaming revenue (GGR) of $33.7 billion during the most recent fiscal year – an all-time high.

Care Package

Some of the $8 billion for tribal communities has already been designated.

$453 million is to be used for essential services to “help prepare for and respond to the pandemic,” and “ensure continuation of government operations.” $153.75 million is set aside for the Bureau of Indian Education for related needs, “including salaries, equipment, online curriculum development and other costs.”

“The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) is working to providing tribes with guidance on how to structure tribes with programs so that they can meet the criteria of this coronavirus relief fund,” said NIGA Executive Director Jason Giles.

To qualify for CARES Act relief, a tribe must prove that the money is being used to cover costs incurred due to COVID-19, and that the expenditures were not accounted for in the most recently approved tribal government budget and were incurred between March 1 through March 30, 2020.