By Rachel Dietert

Native American nations faced disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 that amplified existing health inequities caused by underfunded health systems and services, insufficient infrastructure and underlying health disparities.

Underfunded health systems have led to a lack of testing and treatment opportunities for Native Americans. Insufficient infrastructure, such as a lack of water and overcrowded housing, can heighten the impact of COVID-19. Health disparities such as chronic illnesses, diabetes and obesity also impacts the prevalence of COVID-19 in Native American populations. (More information about the causes behind the high rates of COVID-19 in Native American populations can be found here). Through the American Rescue Plan Act, $32 billion was allocated to help these tribal communities recover from the pandemic.

The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, a part of the American Rescue Plan, is a pot of somewhat discretionary funding that must be used to address the impact of the pandemic. This means that if tribes can justify how their spending of these funds addresses the impact of the pandemic, they are able to determine how these funds are used. Included in the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund is $20 billion allocated to 570 federally recognized tribes. Here is a breakdown of that allocation:

Five Tribes Awarded the Most American Rescue Plan Funding

TribeEnrolled CitizensFull-Time Equivalent Annual EmployeesTotal ARPA Funding
Navajo Nation399,49414,906$2,079,461,465
Cherokee Nation391,00211,903$1,996,025,479
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma202,50210,256$1,094,352,141
Chickasaw Nation72,30714,661$552,614,537
Muscogee (Creek) Nation90,7944,715$493,282,104

*This is a combination of all funding sources in the American Rescue Plan from direct allocations and the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Oklahoma is home to four out of five of these tribal nations, which received funds totaling $4.1 billion. The fifth tribe, the Navajo Nation, is located in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Few tribal nations have published what they plan to do with the funding other than providing direct assistance to their citizens. However, the Cherokee Nation has provided some insight on how they plan to use these American Rescue Plan funds:

  • $840.12 million — Direct payments to every Tribal citizen.
  • $131.53 million — “Housing/quarantine/domestic violence.”
  • $131.53 million — Education, native language revitalization and higher education relief and assistance.
  • $191.61 million — Government revenue replacement.
  • $142.31 million — Health infrastructure and behavioral health and wellness programs.

Information on how the Cherokee Nation allocated the remaining 28% of its share can be found here.

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin has also published how it plans to use these funds from the American Rescue Plan State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund:  

  • $5.1 million — Directly to tribal members.
  • $2.5 million — New cultural center.
  • $1 million — Repatriating 854 acres from Bayfield County (Due to the Dawes Act, reservations were broken up, and land was allotted to individual tribal members. Eventually, much of this land was no longer owned by tribal members. The act of repatriation is returning the land to the tribe. More information about repatriation in Bayfield County can be found here.)
  • $12.6 million — New housing developments.
  • $1.5 million — Infrastructure.
  • $4.2 million — Premium pay to tribal employees.

The remaining tribe allocations can be found here.

In addition to Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds that went directly to tribal governments, Native American nations also received funding through federal agencies. The section-by-section allocations can be found here. The three agencies allocated the most funding are:

  • Section 11001: $6.1 billion to Indian Health Services to fund COVID-19 vaccine campaigns and testing, third party medical billing reimbursements, construction of Indian Health Services facilities, telehealth, potable water delivery and behavioral health.
  • Section 2202: $1.1 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to support tribes participating in the Child Care and Development Block Grant program which provides financial assistance to help low-income families afford child care.
  • Section 11002: $900 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to address the impact of COVID-19 on social welfare and public safety programs. This includes money toward tribal government services, the Bureau’s Housing Improvement program, potable water delivery and administrative costs and oversight.

Through direct payments to citizens and tribal governments, these funds will address the inequities in Native American communities that were exacerbated during the pandemic.

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