By Andrew Westney, Law360
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tribes and tribal groups would receive $24 billion as part of a proposed House package for coronavirus relief, with Alaska Native corporations made ineligible for the main tribal funding pool after the government’s plan to include them in the previous round of funding sparked a suit from federally recognized tribes.
The $3 trillion Heroes Act introduced by House Democrats on Tuesday, May 12, includes $20 billion in direct funding for tribes as part of almost $1 trillion dedicated to state, local, tribal and territorial governments.
The bill defines tribal governments as the federally recognized tribes identified under the List Act of 1994, which would leave out the Alaska Native corporations — for-profit companies organized under Alaska state law.
That provision would also apply to the coronavirus relief package from late March, as a group of federally recognized tribes pursues litigation against the U.S. Department of the Treasury seeking to prevent the ANCs from receiving a share of $8 billion in direct tribal government funding under that law.
The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation and more than a dozen other federally recognized tribes won an injunction from a D.C. federal judge in late April blocking the Treasury Department from sending any of that $8 billion to the ANCs.
Tribes had sought $20 billion in direct governmental funding to combat the coronavirus in the March relief package, amid claims from Democratic lawmakers that the Trump administration and Republican legislators didn’t want to include any direct funding for tribal governments in the bill.
“Tribal assistance funding in the Heroes Act makes it possible for Native communities to begin to address the damage the president’s negligence has caused, and I’m proud to have pushed for its inclusion,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., a cosponsor of the bill, said in a statement on Wednesday, May 13.
“The federal government has a legal obligation to support health care for tribal nations and improve the lives of their citizens, and the Trump administration has openly ignored that obligation in a crisis.”
The new bill adds $20 billion in funding for tribal governments to be paid by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in consultation with the U.S. Department of the Interior and tribes, “based on increased aggregate expenditures” of each government or tribe-owned entity in 2020 “relative to aggregate expenditures in fiscal year 2019.”
On top of the $20 billion for tribal governments to counter “the fiscal impacts” of the pandemic, the bill includes $2.1 billion for Native American health care through the Indian Health Service.
That includes $1 billion to help compensate for tribal health facilities’ lost third party revenue from Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Health Administration and private insurers, which has plummeted during the pandemic, as many facilities have had to stop offering services unrelated to COVID-19 in order to focus on the crisis.
In a recent letter, a bipartisan group of more than 50 senators and representatives urged Senate leaders to furnish specific funding for federal, tribal and urban Indian health programs.
Urban Indian organizations would receive $64 million in the new package, and $500 million would go toward telehealth, PPE, medical supplies and other health care needs for Native Americans.
The proposal would provide $140 million “to expand broadband infrastructure and information technology for telehealth and electronic health records system purposes,” and at least $366 million “to provide isolation or quarantine space,” according to a Democratic summary of the bill.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $100 million for tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian health organizations and health service providers to tribes.
The DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs would get $900 million to help tribal governments deal with the coronavirus, including $780 million to sustain government programs and $100 million to reduce overcrowding in tribal housing.
In addition, the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Education would see a $450 million set-aside in the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would garner $50 million for environmental justice grants, while the U.S. Department of Transportation would receive $150 million for the Tribal Transportation Program.
The Heroes Act is set for a House vote on Friday but marks just the beginning of negotiations. Veterans of Capitol Hill describe it as the opening salvo in a weekslong process that must satisfy Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump.