Wyden stands with tribes as only Senate Dem to shut down COVID tribal funding claw back
Hundreds of millions in tribal pandemic funding protected -- for now.
Editor’s note: After this piece was published, Sen. Warren offered a comment to Indigenous Wire, which is included in the appropriate place below.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is the only Senate Democrat to stand with tribes against a now-stalled COVID relief package that was on course to claw back hundreds of millions of tribal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for other COVID-related programs.
Wyden voted yesterday with all 50 Senate Republicans against moving the legislation forward. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) changed his vote from “yes” to “no” — against the legislation he supports — to preserve his ability to move it forward once again in the future. U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) did not vote on the bill.
The final vote was 47 - 52.
While Senate Republicans said they could not vote for the overall $10 billion package because it did not contain anti-immigration language, known as Title 42, Wyden stood firm on a different principle.
“The need to continue funding the fight against COVID is clear, but I cannot support siphoning off essential resources for rural communities, tribes and small businesses in Oregon and nationwide just to pad drug companies’ profits,” Wyden told Indigenous Wire in a statement.
“It’s pure politics that Republicans insisted vital COVID assistance be drained to pay for this bill, and I remain committed to finding solutions that arm our entire country with the defenses needed to battle this public health crisis without making rural America, tribes and small businesses foot the bill.”
Wyden, who chairs the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, was a major champion of the ARPA’s Section 605, a tribal stabilization fund meant to help tribes that were served in an inequitable manner due to the U.S. Treasury Department’s widely criticized ARPA and CARES Act tribal pandemic funding distribution formulas.
ARPA’s Section 605 monies designated for tribes would have been reduced by half — from $500 million to $250 million — had the proposed legislation passed and been signed into law.
The Senate package would have also removed $1.9 billion of the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) allocation, for which tribal small businesses are eligible to apply.
Tribes and tribal advocates worked throughout Monday and Tuesday to make sure Democrats knew that pandemic funding they had specifically included in ARPA to help struggling tribes would be taken away under the proposal, which was endorsed by Schumer, as well as by the White House.
Still, lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — who has pressed Treasury to do a better job of consulting with tribes and getting funds out to tribes in an equitable manner — thought the claw back was worth it.
“Mitt Romney has promised he’s going to bring 10 Republicans to the table for a domestic COVID protection plan, and we better take that deal while we can,” Warren was quoted as saying.
Warren voted to move the bill forward with the anti-tribal language intact. (After this piece was published, Warren offered the following comment to Indigenous Wire: “We desperately need a COVID aid package. But I’m very concerned that the COVID bill might include cuts to funding for tribal nations — cuts that Republicans are insisting on. Native communities are some of the most vulnerable and were among the hardest-hit during the pandemic. If the COVID bill passes with cuts to tribal funding included, Congress must take immediate steps to restore every penny of the funding in future legislation.”)
The White House blamed Republicans for the bill’s failure, and White House officials have not said whether President Joe Biden supports the tribal claw backs.
Ironically, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) did not deliver any Republican votes for the bill, including his own vote, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans could not support the bill unless it contained anti-immigration language adopted during the Trump administration.
“There'll have to be an amendment on Title 42 in order to move the bill,” McConnell told reporters. “We'll need to enter into some kind of agreement to process these amendments in order to go forward with the bill.”
Schumer and his office have not addressed his willingness to work with Romney to remove the tribal funding, although one major lesson was learned, tribal advocates say: a vast majority of Senate Democrats are willing to horse-trade tribal pandemic funds if they feel they can get away with it.
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