April 21, 2020

Heinrich, Udall Announce Tribal COVID-19 Disaster Assistance Cost Share Relief Act

Senator Heinrich and Udall’s 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. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) announced the Tribal COVID-19 Disaster Assistance Cost Share Relief Act, legislation he plans to introduce to eliminate the non-federal cost share for emergency protective measures undertaken by Tribal governments in response to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). 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 cost share for public assistance under the Stafford Act is 75 percent for federal and 25 percent for non-federal entities. 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.”

“As Tribal enterprises have been forced to close their doors to slow the spread of the virus and protect their communities, Tribal governments are facing deep revenue shortfalls for the foreseeable future,” said Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Tribes have made it abundantly clear that, like states and local governments, the effects of COVID-19 on Native communities will extend far beyond public health. Tribal governments’ ability to provide essential services will be severely hampered without federal support. The current cost-share threshold for disaster assistance does not make sense in this pandemic and is a barrier for Indian Country to receive the funds that Congress intended to combat this unprecedented public health crisis. I will keep working to ensure these funds get out the door without further delay, and that Tribal communities have the support they need from the federal government to stay healthy and financially afloat in this challenging time.”

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.