N.M. Delegation Introduces Tribal COVID-19 Disaster Assistance Cost Share Relief Act

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would waive FEMA’s cost-sharing requirements for emergency work in response to COVID-19 and increase the federal cost-share to 100 percent for Indian Tribal governments

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich led the New Mexico delegation, including U.S. Senator Tom Udall and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, in introducing the bipartisan Tribal COVID-19 Disaster Assistance Cost Share Relief Act, legislation to eliminate the non-federal cost share for emergency protective measures undertaken by Tribal governments in response to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).

Under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance program, emergency work, including Direct Federal Assistance, is authorized at 75 percent federal funding, leaving Indian Tribal governments responsible for the remaining 25 percent. Maintaining this cost share during the COVID-19 pandemic – as Tribal economies and health systems struggle – places severe pressure on Tribal budgets and limits critical resources that are desperately needed to protect the public health of Native communities. The Tribal COVID-19 Disaster Assistance Cost Share Relief Act would waive the cost-sharing requirement and grant 100 percent funding for all Indian Tribal governments.

“The coronavirus pandemic is having a severe and disproportionate impact on Indian Country. Tribal nations are taking on enormous and unprecedented costs to protect the health and safety of their communities,” said Heinrich. “This bill would waive FEMA’s cost share requirement for emergency protective measures that is standing in the way of Tribal governments receiving the full support of the federal government they need to respond to this crisis. I will keep doing everything in my power to secure the funding and resources Tribal nations need to save lives during the immediate public health response and to support long-term economic recovery.”

“Indian Country is facing an unprecedented crisis with some of the highest coronavirus rates of infection in the United States, combined with enormous economic losses due to the closures of Tribally owned and operated businesses. Together, these factors have put many Native communities in an exceedingly difficult position: Tribal governments are faced with having to cover enormous costs associated with responding to the pandemic at the same they are losing much of the usual revenue from Tribal businesses,” said Udall. “This legislation which would waive Tribes’ 25 percent cost-share for federal disaster assistance will help provide the relief and certainty needed for Tribal governments to stay financially afloat and to continue provide the essential services needed for Native communities.”

Senators Heinrich and Udall recently sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Peter T. Gaynor outlining significant concerns about the public health and economic impacts that the COVID-19 outbreak is having on tribal communities in New Mexico, and urging him to use authority to waive the tribal cost share in response to individual tribal requests.

The New Mexico delegation recently sent a letter to President Donald Trump and Administrator Gaynor requesting a waiver of the FEMA cost-share requirement for Tribes to alleviate the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our communities in unimaginable ways, and a robust national response to this crisis requires much more support for local, state, and Tribal governments. In New Mexico and across the nation, Tribal governments are experiencing the brunt of this public health crisis and need urgent help. Alongside the New Mexico delegation, I’m proud to lead the effort in the House to introduce legislation that would waive FEMA’s cost-share requirement and alleviate the financial burden placed on Tribal governments,” said Luján. “The current crisis before us requires urgent action, and I will continue fighting for the resources Tribal governments need to protect public health.”

“During this pandemic there should not be burdensome barriers to relief, but FEMA’s cost-sharing requirements are blocking Tribes from providing Native communities with economic support and health care resources, on top of the pre-existing severe underfunding in Indian Country caused by the federal government’s failure to live up to trust responsibility. That’s why the delegation and I introduced this bill to remove roadblocks, so Tribal communities have what they need to stop the spread of this virus,” said Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“Our tribes and Pueblos have been, and continue to be, disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. While the number of cases continues to climb each day, tribal governments, healthcare providers, and businesses are fighting the virus' spread with limited resources and decreased revenue. By only covering 75% of the disaster assistance costs, the federal relief effort has fallen short of providing the tribal governments the support they need,” said Torres Small. “During this unprecedented public health crisis, our tribes and Pueblos need full federal resources to save lives and protect public health and safety. This bipartisan bill takes necessary action to provide that full support, which is critical to our immediate response efforts to safely reopen and rebuild our economy.”

In addition to Senators Heinrich and Udall, the Senate bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), and in addition to Representatives Luján, Haaland, and Torres Small, the House bill is cosponsored by U.S. Representative Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), and Kendra Horn (D-Okla.).

The Tribal COVID-19 Disaster Assistance Cost Share Relief Act is supported by National Congress of American Indians, the Navajo Nation, and the All Pueblo Council of Governors.

“Tribal governments are facing enormous challenges in their efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19, and adequately responding to the pandemic is incredibly resource intensive,” said Kevin J. Allis, Chief Executive Officer of the National Congress of American Indians. “Eliminating FEMA cost sharing for tribal governments will help ensure tribal access to FEMA emergency relief funds, which will ultimately increase safety and save lives in tribal communities. NCAI is grateful for the introduction of this legislation and urges its immediate consideration and passage.”

“The Navajo Nation is devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. On a per capita basis, the Navajo Nation has the third-highest infection rate in the Country,” said Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation. “The Federal Government should be doing more to support Indian Tribes through this pandemic because of their failed trust and treaty obligations. We appreciate Sen. Heinrich for introducing this measure so that precious and limited tribal resources are spent wisely.”

"We have worked closely with FEMA. They are a powerful partner for Indian country. However, because of the cost share requirement it is not always possible for Tribal Nations to take full advantage of that partnership just at a time when they need it most. For this reason, I am very thankful to Senator Heinrich for introducing legislation that waives the cost share requirement, strengthening our ability to fight the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a national effort. Senator Heinrich understands that we are all in this together. We thank Senator Heinrich for his leadership on the federal side in ensuring that tribal governments have the needed resources to protect public health for Native and non-Native communities alike," said Michael Chavarria, Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo and Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors.