Senior Policy Analyst
By providing $8 billion for 574 federally recognized tribes in its $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for tribal, state, local, and territorial governments, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act marked a historic federal recognition of tribes — contrasting sharply with the 2009 Recovery Act, which excluded tribes from its major state fiscal relief. Still, policymakers will need to include more stimulus funding for tribes in future relief bills because they’re especially vulnerable to COVID-19’s health and economic effects.
American Indian and Alaska Native families are more vulnerable to the pandemic than U.S. residents overall due to the legacies of colonialism, racism, and the federal government’s failure to support these communities’ social and economic well-being. That has left tribal governments facing unique challenges in the current environment, including:
All of that makes it incredibly hard for tribal governments to respond to COVID-19 and the coming recession. Moreover, the federal government has been slow to help tribes during this crisis. Only half of tribal governments surveyed say they’ve received COVID-19-related information from the federal or state governments, according to the National Indian Health Board, and fewer than a fifth have received money, technical assistance, or supplies. Most alarming: only 3 percent have diagnostic kits and some tribal communities have reported receiving five or fewer test kits.
Given tribal communities’ vulnerabilities, policymakers will need to do more in future aid packages to address their health, housing, and economic challenges.