CRONKITE NEWS

Tribes say delayed coronavirus funds hurt relief, other efforts

Jul 11, 2020, 6:05 AM
(Photo by Chelsea Hofmann/Cronkite News)...
(Photo by Chelsea Hofmann/Cronkite News)
(Photo by Chelsea Hofmann/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – At a time when some Native American communities continue to struggle with the most basic needs, tribal leaders Wednesday called it “an outrage” that tribes had to wait months for coronavirus relief funds.

Congress approved the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March and set aside $8 billion for tribes, which did not start to be disbursed until May.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez was among the witnesses who told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the Navajo Nation received the second allocation “just three weeks ago.” The delayed allocation of CARES Act funds to tribes was called “an outrage” by National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp.

“We are at the point now where we are among the most vulnerable, we are disproportionately impacted and it is an outrage that at this point we still do not have the funding that Congress appropriated three months ago,” Sharp said in her testimony.

Nez said that “chronic under-funding of Indian programs” left tribes unprepared to respond to COVID-19, which has hit the Navajo particularly hard.

But he and other witnesses said it has also set back efforts to deal with a range of legacy problems faced by tribes, such as diabetes, clean water, poor access to schools and a lack of broadband.

“I want to make it very clear that there is a need in Indian Country and we do need additional dollars,” said Sharp, who is also president of the Quinault Indian Nation.

The four-hour hearing – titled “Addressing the Urgent Needs of Our Tribal Communities” – covered a wide range of issues, but CARES Act funding and the impact of COVID-19 on tribes was front and center.

The Navajo Nation has been particularly hard hit by the virus, with the tribal health department reporting 7,981 positive cases and 383 deaths from the disease as of Wednesday. But Nez also pointed out that 5,650 tribe members have recovered from the disease so far.

“The Navajo Nation is going through some tough times right now,” he said. “I appreciate the prayers and the support that we have been given by our congressional delegation and Congress.”

Nez said the pandemic has also highlighted other challenges the nation faces. He said that 10,000 homes on the sprawling Navajo Nation do not have electricity, and the nation is still waiting on Congress to act on legislation that would fund clean water infrastructure.

Nez encouraged the committee to consider legislation that would extend funding under the CARES Act for another year, through the end of 2021.

“Many of you know … that projects don’t move as quickly in Indian Country and I think that would give us some time to get these projects underway,” he said of a possible funding extension.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said that Congress needs to consider policy changes as well as funding to help improve services in Indian Country.

“Historically, federal policy has unacceptably left the needs of Native American communities behind,” said O’Halleran, as he introduced Nez at the hearing.

“President Nez and I have been working together to address how the Navajo Nation and people have been left behind and developed, bold public policies are needed to rectify this,” he said.

Nez said a CARES Act extension would give tribes and the Navajo Nation time “to close the digital divide, expand access to water, health and other needs of the Navajo people.” But he agreed that federal policies toward tribes will also need to change.

“We’ve been talking about funding, we’ve been talking about projects – but what we really should be focusing our attention on to get these projects done quickly is to reevaluate federal laws, policies, and regulations,” he said. “Those are those no-cost changes that can occur so projects can get done completely.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Cronkite News

(File photo by Jenna Miller/Cronkite News)...
Ulysse Bex | Cronkite News

Arizona jobless rate continues steady decline, workforce keeps growing

Arizona’s unemployment rate continued its steady decline in October, falling to 5.2%, down a full percentage point from two months earlier.
7 days ago
Lourdes Pereira stands next to Gov. Doug Ducey on Sept. 1 as he signs House Bill 2705, which preven...
Chad Bradley I Cronkite News

Arizona law allows Indigenous students greater cultural expression at graduation

Before a new Arizona law was passed in April, some schools prohibited regalia at graduations, contributing to systemic limits on cultural expression.
8 days ago
Hundreds attend the Rock ‘n’ Roll Classic Car Show at the Pavilions at Talking Stick, touted as...
Michael Patton I Cronkite News

Car-crazy Phoenix tops all US metros for consumer spending on transportation

Valley drivers love their cars, and more than anywhere else in the country, they put their money where their hearts are.
1 month ago
The border wall, seen here in Nogales, does little to stop drug smugglers. In fiscal year 2020, age...
Natasha Yee I Cronkite News

As marijuana profits fade, drug cartels increasingly smuggle fentanyl across the border

Although marijuana traditionally has been one of the most profitable cash cows for Mexican cartels, steady legalization of cannabis in U.S. states has prompted a change in course.
2 months ago
New citizens take the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony in San Francisco in 2015....
Diannie Chavez | Cronkite News

Citizenship applications backlog leaves thousands with cases pending

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is dealing with a backlog of citizenship applications caused by pandemic service reductions.
2 months ago
Lake Powell at the Glen Canyon Dam wall on Aug. 18, 2021, as the lake was at historic lows. (Photo ...
Ulysse Bex and Emma VandenEinde I Cronkite News

New estimates show Colorado River levels falling faster than expected

New projections show that Lake Mead and Lake Powell could reach “critically low reservoir elevations” sooner than expected, spurring experts to say that “bold actions” will be needed to change course.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Canvas Annuity

Annuity basics: how to retire with a guaranteed paycheck for life

Does the thought of retirement fill you with stress or with happiness? Everyone wants to spend their retirement in a way that brings them the most joy, whether that’s traveling the world or spending extra time at home with grandkids.
...
ENVOQUE MD

Thyroid issues: Here are the warning signs and what to do

In a 100-person office in the United States, an estimated 12 co-workers, employees and loved ones, will likely develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. That’s because, according to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12% of the U.S. population will experience thyroid issues.
...
Schwartz Laser Eye Center

How to sharpen your vision with elective procedures

Imagine opening your eyes in the morning and being able to see clearly. You wouldn’t have to wait to put on glasses or contacts, and there would be no more blurry showers nor forgetting where your glasses are.
Tribes say delayed coronavirus funds hurt relief, other efforts