(The Center Square) – Arizona's congressional delegation sent a bipartisan letter to U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking them to quickly and equitably distribute economic relief funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to the state's tribal governments.
The Center Square reported last week that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) received a specialized appropriation from the CARES Act to support the agency's COVID-19 response operations. The legislation also appropriated a record $8 billion to support tribal governments in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our country is waging a war with this new virus, and we need to ensure no community is left behind without the resources they need in that fight,” the Arizona members wrote in the letter. “We must also protect our workers and keep them paid so they can purchase the food and supplies they need to get their families through this crisis safely. This is true of all our communities, including Tribal Nations, who are uniquely vulnerable to this health and economic crisis.”
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz, chairman of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the U.S., said separately that "Indian Country cannot afford the delays in the distribution of this relief that have plagued this administration. Arizona Tribes are already feeling the consequences of this crisis, and every day counts. While we push for the swift implementation of the CARES Act, we will continue to advocate for Tribes to receive the help they need to combat this pandemic in future bills."
U.S. Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz, a member of Congressional Native American Caucus who represents a portion of Navajo Nation, said in a statement that he's "been concerned with the lack of attention the Navajo Nation has received from state and federal agencies responsible for COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts."
"As the number of cases on Navajo has doubled, then tripled, my colleagues and I have made call after call on the federal entities charged with disbursing the dedicated funding for Tribes we fought for across three legislative packages," he added.
According to the Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Service, there are 12 confirmed deaths related to the virus as of April 3.
There are 270 cases confirmed across Navajo, Apache, and Coconino counties in Arizona; McKinley, San Juan, Socorro, Cibola counties in New Mexico; and in San Juan County in Utah.