COVID-19 stimulus package offers $10 billion for tribes, including funds for Montana tribes

Responding to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump on Friday signed the biggest economic stimulus package in American history, which allocates $10 billion for Native American tribes.

Many people have heard that the $2 trillion package includes direct payments to individuals, loans for industries and an expansion of unemployment benefits, but not many people know how the package supports Native American tribes, which must navigate additional challenges in combating the virus.

How does the package affect Indian Country?

The stimulus includes $10 billion in critical relief for Indian Country, $8 billion of which is designated to help tribal governments recover from coronavirus, and $7.6 million will be distributed in Indian Housing Block grants for tribes.

The Indian Health Service, which provides health care to federally recognized tribes, will receive $1 billion to support response efforts. Tribal government services supported by the Bureau of Indian Affairs will receive $453 million.

Food distribution programs on reservations will get $100 million, and tribal schools, colleges and universities will receive $69 million via the Bureau of Indian Education. 

The package also extends funding for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, which supports diabetes prevention and treatment, through Nov. 30, 2020.

“This bill isn’t perfect, but it will help provide the most urgently needed relief for workers, small businesses, hospitals, and Tribal governments in Indian Country—home to an at-risk population and lacking the medical infrastructure and supplies to help folks who need it most,” Sen. Jon Tester said in a statement.

“I look forward to getting our tribal communities the resources they need during this global pandemic,” Sen. Steve Daines said in a statement. 

Rep. Greg Gianforte spoke on the House floor on Friday in support of the stimulus.

“Montanans are concerned. They’re concerned about the health of their families and communities. They’re concerned about the fallout from this outbreak. They’re concerned they may have to shudder their businesses and lay off their workers. … We’re addressing many of those concerns today,” he said.

How will tribes in Montana benefit?

Here’s how the stimulus allocates money to tribes in Montana, according to a press release:

  • $750,004 for the Crow Nation
  • $1.3 million for Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes
  • $1.9 million for the Blackfeet Nation
  • $767,992 for the Chippewa Cree Tribe
  • $603,669 for the Fort Belknap Indian Community
  • $884,873 for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe
  • $1.4 million for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes
  • $613,760 for the Little Shell Tribe through Indian Housing Block Grants

Because the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana recently gained federal recognition status, the tribe is uniquely positioned in responding to the pandemic. 

Tribal Chair Gerald Gray said they have not yet received federal funding for an IHS facility, and because they don’t have a facility, they will not receive funds that would support medical staff and services. 

Though the Little Shell Tribe will receive housing funds through the stimulus package, Gray said he is still worried about the tribe’s ability to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I am concerned because members may become unemployed, they may need food and hygiene items that right now we are unable to provide or assist with because we don’t have any available funds,” he said. 

Gray said that while $10 billion seems like a lot of money, it’s important to remember that the funding is distributed across hundreds of tribes in the United States. 

“I worry about people thinking we’re getting all these handouts, but you have to understand when you see a big dollar amount it goes across all of Indian Country, so it’s not as much as what people think. The IHS is so underfunded. It is a health care of last resort,” he said. 

Tribal Chair Floyd Azure said the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes are struggling in responding to the virus.

“We think someone was exposed to it, and we want to get him quarantined, but we don’t have an appropriate facility,” he said, adding that their IHS clinic does not have beds or sufficient space to isolate someone.