On April 2, 2020, the Treasury Department held its initial consultation with Indian tribes and the Interior Department regarding implementation of the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) that was included in the CARES Act. Treasury made clear that the agency will distribute the entire $8 billion to tribal governments from the CRF by April 24, 2020. A second consultation is scheduled for Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Two critical issues remain regarding the CRF for Indian tribes: (1) how will Treasury allocate the distribution; and (2) what expenditures will be considered “necessary” under the law.
Indian gaming operations nationwide have closed their doors to protect Native communities and to help stop the spread of the virus. As Rep. Norma Torres (CA-35) stated in the attached House colloquy on the tribal portion of the CRF, tribal government and tribally-owned entity closures “have been nothing short of catastrophic. The very resources that had been used to fund the tribal government and provide services virtually evaporated overnight.”
With no revenue coming in, tribal governments and tribally-owned entities continue to face financial obligations to their communities in the form of essential government services, their employees, and their lenders and other business partners.
Our Member Tribes have shared several priorities for uses of the CRF: maintaining funding levels with FY2019 for tribal government services; retaining ties to their employees either through using the Fund to make payroll or to provide benefits to furloughed employees; and meeting financial obligations (such as servicing debt) to keep Indian gaming operations viable so that employees have jobs to return to when the pandemic is defeated.
The National Indian Gaming Association has repeatedly testified before Congress that Indian gaming is first and foremost about jobs. Nationwide, Indian gaming is a proven job creator - in 2018, our industry generated more than 310,000 direct jobs. Indian gaming has provided many Native Americans with their first opportunity to work at home on the reservation. Just as importantly, jobs on the reservation generated by Indian gaming are bringing back entire families that had moved away.
To acknowledge the importance of job creation and retention during this global pandemic, the Treasury Department’s formula (the method of allocation and distribution of the CRF to Indian tribes) must factor in tribal employees and wages.
Naturally, as an organization, the National Indian Gaming Association is here to serve all of our Member Tribes and we must always remember that many of our remote rural tribes, including the Navajo Nation which is dealing with the largest outbreak in Indian Country, our brothers and sisters in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain areas, also need immediate financial relief. The Treasury Department must also include a factor in their formula that accounts for economic hardship and resources to address poor health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, that contribute to the deadliness of the Corona Virus.
Equally important are the determinations that Treasury will make regarding what costs to tribal governments will be considered “eligible” uses of the fund. The CRF provides that tribal, state, and local governments “shall use the funds provided” under the CRF “to cover only those costs” that “are necessary expenditures incurred due to” COVID-19, “were not accounted for in the” most recently approved budget; and “were incurred” between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020.
Again, tribal governments nationwide have closed operations for the foreseeable future – the primary source of governmental revenue for most tribes. However, tribes and tribally-owned entities continue to face financial obligations to their citizens, employees, and business partners. Meeting all of these obligations must be deemed “necessary expenditures” under the CRF.
The National Indian Gaming Association is calling on Tribal Nations to make their voices heard at the Treasury’s Thursday, April 9th, consultation with Indian Country.
Attached for your use is a model letter addressed to the Treasury Department, urging the agency to factor in the amount of Direct Tribal Government employees on your Tribe’s payroll. Comments should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, on a separate issue under the Corona Virus Relief package, NIGA is also working very hard to get our small gaming tribes (less than 500 employees) included under the SBA, “Paycheck Protection Program.” With coming amendments to the PPP, sponsored by our champions in Congress, Tribes with less than 500 employees should be able to receive up to $10 Million in funding to keep their employees on the job. NIGA will follow up on a separate Alert with regards to the SBA PPP program.
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