Romney's COVID funding bill would gut U.S. Treasury tribal relief programs by hundreds of millions of dollars
Utah senator strikes a bipartisan deal, and poorer tribes will suffer.
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan U.S. Senate COVID relief bill with companion legislation in the U.S. House is quickly moving through both chambers. It would gut U.S. Department of the Treasury tribal pandemic programming by hundreds of millions of dollars.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on April 4 announced major progress on bipartisan talks surrounding a deal to provide $10 billion in funding for urgent COVID needs and therapeutics by repurposing unspent COVID funds leftover from the Democrats’ 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Tribal advocates say the bill amounts to a major “emergency” whose proposed text would claw back $250 million of $500 million of the ARPA’s Section 605 — a tribal stabilization fund promoted by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) — and eliminates half the tribal State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) allocation.
“From the beginning, Senate Republicans have insisted that any new requests from the Administration for COVID funding be paid for by repurposing existing funds from the nearly $6 trillion in COVID legislation that the Senate has already passed,” Romney said in a statement.
“Today’s agreement does just that by repurposing $10 billion to provide needed domestic COVID health response tools. Half of the funding will be used for the development and purchase of therapeutics — potentially eliminating the need for future vaccine and mask mandates,” Romney continued.
Romney further said he appreciates the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) during these negotiations, and he believes that the legislation deserves broad bipartisan support.
“Importantly, this bill is comprised of dollar-for-dollar offsets and will not cost the American people a single additional dollar,” Romney added.
It will more than likely be costly for tribes, however.
Poorer tribes had long hoped that money provided under the tribal stabilization fund would help account for inequities they faced during the Treasury Department’s roll out last year of ARPA funds to tribes based on inequitable formulas that resulted in rich tribes getting richer and poorer and larger tribes bearing more burden.
Certain White House and Treasury officials are increasingly facing blame from tribal leaders as a result of these formulaic inequities, since it now seems obvious that the Biden administration and Congress are tightening the tribal purse strings while the pandemic is still ongoing. Despite the deaths of many tribal citizens, the White House also dragged its feet in nominating an Indian Health Service director, and the Senate has yet to confirm the nominee.
Since Romney has already indicated that Schumer is on board with the plan, it is likely that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is, too, according to tribal advocates. And the Democratic leaders are perhaps pressuring Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Committee on Finance, to support it as well.
“This was the most flexible money for tribes and was Treasury’s one chance to ensure that needy tribes got money, which they didn’t under Treasury’s CARES and ARPA formulas,” said one tribal advocate who is currently working Capitol Hill on the issue.
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