VIDEO: On the Senate Floor, Udall Urges Senate to Pass Critical and Comprehensive Pandemic Relief for Tribes, Native Communities
Senate Republican inaction threatens Tribes and Native communities’ COVID-19 response
VIDEO LINK: https://youtu.be/sxrbnpAVylE
WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, spoke on the Senate floor calling for the Senate to pass comprehensive COVID-19 relief legislation that would provide critical assistance to Tribal COVID-19 response efforts. Udall further highlighted the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on Tribes and Native communities. Udall’s call for action comes after Senate Republicans scheduled votes on piecemeal relief legislation and refused to bring up the Heroes Act, which passed the House of Representatives over 22 weeks ago.
“I join my Democratic colleagues today to voice my frustration with Senate Republicans drive to manufacture votes on anemic half measures instead of focusing on enacting robust and comprehensive COVID-19 relief for the American people,” said Udall. “With over 220,000 deaths, positive cases surging throughout the country, and flu season right around the corner, it is unconscionable that we are not taking up legislation to address the health and economic needs facing this nation.”
“As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I’m compelled to speak out to urge immediate, bipartisan action to provide more targeted relief for Native communities,” continued Udall. “And, to urge my Republican colleagues, who represent a number of Native communities, to join me. Our shared trust and treaty obligations demand nothing less.
“Our obligation to provide quality, accessible healthcare to all Native Americans doesn’t end with this once-in-a-century pandemic. And, it cannot be fulfilled by partisan half measures meant to score political points rather than provide meaningful help. Congress must do better. We must do much more,” Udall concluded. “American families are struggling. Our country is struggling. We in Congress have the tools to help end that. Instead, we are wasting time with sham votes. History will not forget this inaction. That’s why it is imperative that we pass comprehensive COVID-19 relief legislation with targeted resources for Native communities.”
Udall’s full remarks can be found below:
Mr. President. I join my Democratic colleagues today to voice my frustration with Senate Republicans’ drive to manufacture votes on anemic half measures instead of focusing on enacting robust and comprehensive COVID-19 relief for the American people.
With over 220,000 deaths, positive cases surging throughout the country, and flu season right around the corner, it is unconscionable that we are not taking up legislation to address the health and economic needs facing this nation.
Simply put, this week’s votes have been engineered as political theater. They were designed to feign action while failing and to further divide this body along party lines while making no progress on another bipartisan coronavirus relief package.
Earlier this summer, I took to the Senate floor to address the on-going impacts of COVID-19 on our nation’s health and economy.
The majority of the $8 billion dollars in CARES Act relief funding had barely gotten out to Tribes by then thanks to the Administration’s delay and fumbled distribution.
Now, the Administration wants Indian Country to believe it championed that funding for Tribal governments. But, the truth is the Administration and Senate Republican leaders offered nothing for Tribes in coronavirus relief.
Tribes didn’t see progress until Senate Democrats fought back, demanding targeted relief for Tribal governments. We ended up securing over $10 billion dollars to fight the virus, stabilize Tribal economies, and support Native health systems.
Yet, it was obvious even then—more would need to be done.
I sounded the alarm that Native communities – like every American community—needed more help and were bearing the brunt of the virus’s continued spread.
As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I’m compelled to speak out again to urge immediate, bipartisan action to provide more targeted relief for Native communities.
And to urge my Republican colleagues, who represent a number of Native communities, to join me.
Our shared trust and treaty obligations demand nothing less.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve heard directly from Tribes, Pueblos, and the Native Hawaiian community about their urgent and ongoing needs for healthcare and economic resources to combat the virus.
I’ve heard how existing federal policies, practices, and program structures have left these communities particularly exposed to severe and long-lasting impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.
In a recent oversight hearing on implementation of federal programs to support Tribal COVID-19 response efforts, Tribal panelists testified about how their communities have been hurt by congressional inaction, funding shortfalls, and a lack of coordination between federal agencies.
Among other things, we learned that:
- Existing federal policies and failures have exacerbated health disparities, economic barriers, and institutional inequities among Native communities;
- The Indian Health Service, Tribes, and Urban Indian health clinics have faced challenges securing personal protective equipment and testing supplies and that they were excluded from most federal public health emergency preparedness planning; and
- That Indian Country continues to struggle to navigate the bureaucratic maze of COVID-19 programs because many agencies had little to no meaningful engagement with Tribes prior to this pandemic.
This testimony is key to putting into context what little data exists on COVID-19 impacts in Native communities.
Even though data was slow to come in, it confirms our worst fears that the pandemic will extract a heavier toll on Native communities if decisive federal actions aren’t taken immediately.
- 34 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults – the highest percentage of any race – are at high-risk of serious health complications due to COVID-19; and
- They are four and a half times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications.
These statistics are staggering. And they appear to be worsening in parts of Indian Country.
Just this week, Indian Health Service officials told Congress that COVID-19 trends in the Bemidji, Billings, Great Plains, and Oklahoma City Service Areas were “very concerning.”
Each of those regions have a seven-day rolling positivity test rate in the double digits.
Several IHS service units are reporting that their network for transferring patients in need of ICU care are nearly full.
There is so much we still don’t know about COVID-19.
But what we do know is this: throughout this crisis, Native communities have fought back. They are resilient.
For example, in my home state of New Mexico, and in Arizona and Utah-- the Navajo Nation has instituted strict curfews to prevent the spread. They’ve ramped up testing – despite the complete lack of testing supplies in the beginning.
But the U.S.’s trust and treaty responsibilities remain.
Our obligation to provide quality, accessible healthcare to all Native Americans doesn’t end with this once-in-a-century pandemic.
And it cannot be fulfilled by partisan half measures meant to score political points rather than provide meaningful help.
Congress must do better. We must do much more.
Each day we fail to act – to advance policies to address the disparities faced by Indian Country – is a day we fail to uphold our oath of office. It is a day we fail to meet the single most defining moment of this Congress – perhaps, of our entire careers.
American families are struggling. Our country is struggling. We in Congress have the tools to help end that. Instead, we are wasting time with “sham” votes. History will not forget this inaction.
That’s why it is imperative that we pass comprehensive COVID-19 relief legislation with targeted resources for Native communities.
We must infuse IHS with additional funding for Tribal healthcare and ensure Indian Country has parity in accessing federal public health programs.
We must provide Tribal governments with the resources they need to keep their communities up and running safely by providing additional funding within the Treasury’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.
And the Senate should pass bills I’ve introduced that have already been adopted by the House of Representatives in its HEROES Act, passed over 3 months ago:
- We must make the strategic national stockpile available to Tribes. Tribes should be able to access PPE, ventilators, and other necessary medical equipment, just as states can.
- We must make sure that Tribes have equal access to Centers for Disease Control resources to prepare for public health emergencies, like this pandemic.
- We must equalize the Medicaid reimbursement rate for Urban Indian health facilities and help the 41 Urban Indian health facilities across the nation expand their services.
- And, as so much of our lives move to the internet, we must make sure that Native schools, health care facilities, and government services are not left on the wrong side of the digital divide. All Tribes must have access to high-speed broadband.
Mr. President. This public health and economic crisis has impacted every community in every state in our union.
But it has hit Native communities particularly hard. We must take real action. We need to lock arms, negotiate in good faith, and get immediate relief out the door.
Not engage in insincere, sham votes on “skinny” relief bills going nowhere, marked by continued partisan bickering.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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