Tribe got Treasury visit, now tribe wants transformative action
Rosebud Sioux Tribe presents action list to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
WASHINGTON — Granted the first-ever visit by a U.S. Treasury Department Secretary to a tribe this week, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe did not sit idle, content with the temporary political attention.
Tribal officials instead used Secretary Janet Yellen’s visit to present a list of action items that they want her and the long overdue Treasury tribal office she announced during her visit to immediately address.
In a policy paper given to Yellen, the tribe, led by President Scott Herman, wanted her to personally know just how unfairly the tribe — and dozens of others — fared under her department’s pandemic relief funding formulas.
“Years of neglect and fundamental lack of understanding of tribes resulted in gross inequities in Treasury's allocation of pandemic relief, with small gaming tribes receiving more than one million per citizen, and large land base tribes receiving less than $7,000 per citizen,” the tribe wrote to Yellen.
“The Rosebud Sioux Tribe was 559th of 574 tribes,” the letter continued, pointing to research done last year by Harvard. “The Oglala Sioux Tribe was 560th and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe was 562nd The tribes with the most profound needs were allocated the least by Treasury. That is unjust. That injustice could be remedied by new inclusion in the financial foundations of our democracy.”
Tribal officials further told Yellen that she has a unique opportunity to become a transformational figure for all tribes if she chooses to listen.
The tribe presented Yellen with the following action items on June 21, asking that she consider:
1) Authoring a Secretarial Order declaring that tribes should be treated as states for all tax purposes.
2) Leading a multi-Secretarial Order with DOI, HHS, HUD, USDA, DOE, Commerce and DOT recognizing a presumption in favor of tribal determinations as to how to spend pandemic relief or BIL money and suspend all other program requirements and restrictions to expedite and prioritize Indian Country's ability to use this historic funding, which is currently being thwarted by Bureaucracy at every turn.
a. Example: Due to a 1980s appropriation restriction, HUD and IHS sanitation dollars cannot be used on the same project, which negates tribes' ability to use either one.
b. Our proposal would be that the Secretaries honor Congress' intent to help tribes and by suspending regulations that inhibit tribes' abilities to utilize funds, for any on-Reservation investment.
c. Waive all match requirements for tribes for all federal grant programs.
d. Create tribal set-asides in all programs. (BIL just funded existing programs that already don't work for tribes). Approximate direct-funding for tribes.
e. Waive all “minimum award” thresholds for all grant programs.
3) Pumping money into the CDFI Fund.
4) Establishing, staffing and funding regional assistance centers for tribes to assist with grant applications and compliance (understanding eligible uses) and OIG reviews of tribes' use of pandemic relief monies.
5) Extending the Capital Projects Fund deadline beyond August 15, to at least December. Tribes have been overwhelmed and under-resourced with all the funding opportunities and need time to take advantage of this much-needed program.
6) Directing the IRS to recognize that tribally-owned businesses may only have a single EIN. This was an issue for PPP but has been an issue that carries over to SBA and other agencies that use an EIN as some type of ID or qualifier for programs or reporting.
7) Directing any used state ERA money to tribes, irrespective of whether the tribes have spent 90% of their allocations. In South Dakota alone, this is $81.5 million, and should be allowed to ameliorate problems stemming from decades of delinquent tribal housing rent.
8) Co-leading an initiative with Secretary Haaland on increasing access to credit by offering special Indian Country interest rates with the Federal Reserve Chairman, convening bank leadership to discuss tribal access to capital, and partnering with the CFPB to enforce banks' duties to serve Indian Country with more than mere deposits to investigate rampant discrimination (e.g., closing accounts without stating a reason).
9) Giving the Community Reinvestment Act real sticks instead of aspirational carrots — making sure that any reboot of the CRA includes direct cash to tribes / CDFIs. At a minimum, Treasury should convene a consultation with FDIC, OCC, the Federal Reserve and the CFPB on the CRA regs.
“The wall of Wall Street was built to keep Indians out,” Rosebud tribal leaders added. “Your being here today takes perhaps a few bricks out of the enduring veritable wall that keeps us in poverty and unable to access capital or effectively invest in our communities.
“But we need much more than things that have been tried before. We need you to take a sledge hammer to that wall….
“There could be no more powerful legacy than lifting up the nation's poorest when we need you the most — and not because it is politically expedient (it’s not) — but because it is the right thing to do, to bring the United States out of disgrace and to ensure Treasury's mission is fulfilled not only in the states, but on Indian reservations as well. Equity and dignity require nothing less.”
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