National Indian Gaming Association Hosts Virtual Winter Legislative Update: COVID-19 Relief Funding For Tribal Governments

Washington, DC – December 18, 2020 – The National Indian Gaming Association hosted its Year-End Legislative meeting last Friday, December 11, 2020. Due to the continued caution brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Year-End meeting was held virtually. This is a critical time in our organizations history given the importance of the continuing pandemic and Presidential transition.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., opened up the meeting by acknowledging the tribal leadership's commitment to our industry, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. "This pandemic has touched almost every aspect of our lives, changing how we live, work, learn, pray, and engage with our community. This silent pandemic impacts us all emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially." Stevens added, "The burden continues to lie on the shoulders of our tribal leaders and every individual to do their part to help us to prepare for and meet the challenges we face. We have found that if there was ever a time in life when we need to stand firm together, it is now."

The agenda included several issues and topics, including a recap of the 2020 Elections by Holly Cook Macarro of Spirit Rock LLC. Tribal Members and the Board of Directors received an update on the Congressional COVID-relief efforts for Indian Country. John Harte of Mapetsi and Pete Kirkham of Red Maple Consulting provided an in-depth analysis of where the House and Senate are in Covid relief and FY 2021 Budget negotiations and how Tribal Governments can weigh-in with the Government. Finally, Theresa Sheldon, DNC Native American Political Director, provided an update on the Biden-Harris transition team and their focus on Indian Country.

Congressman Raul Grijalva (AZ-07), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, closed out the meeting, providing a recap of the Committee’s activity for the year. Chairman Grijalva thanked Indian Country for all the tireless advocacy and outreach his office has received from the National Indian Gaming Association and other Tribal organizations.

Executive Director Giles reported on the impact COVID-19 has had on the legislative efforts and the organizational operations of the National Indian Gaming Association. He thanked the Tribal Leadership for their responsiveness during this pandemic in helping the Association lobby Congress on the Cares Act and Heroes Act legislation.

Indian Country has sacrificed tremendously in this fight and has done its part to prevent viral transmission on our reservations. However, it has not been easy or inexpensive, and just like our counterparts at the State and Local level, Tribal Governments desperately need a new round of COVID-19 relief funding.

Today, Congress has closed in on an agreement on a $900 billion COVID-19 aid package, after months of stalemates while the country desperately awaited further relief as the pandemic wore on. The agreement does not include any new aid to state, local, or tribal governments, which was a priority for Democratic leadership. Senator Moran (R-KS) has led an effort in his caucus to provide Tribal Governments with Covid-19 relief regardless of State or Local relief, stressing that the Federal Government has a separate Treaty and Trust obligation to ensure the health of our Tribal Nations who sacrificed so much for this Country. Senator Moran along with 12 Republican Senators wrote a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in August, urging the inclusion of tribal government relief in the next COVID-19 aid package. (The letter from Senator Moran and his colleagues to Senator McConnell is attached to this press release.)

Along with direct financial relief for tribal governments, Indian Country also is urging an extension of the December 30, 2020 deadline, originally outlined in Title V of the CARES Act, for tribal governments to spend their allocation of the Coronavirus Relief Fund. This has been a long-standing priority of Indian Country as the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund disbursement to tribal governments was delayed due to litigation over Alaska Native Corporations inclusion in the CARES Act.

In addition, with an eye a new Congress and new Administration in January, Indian Country must unite to call upon the federal government to enact legislation and provide equitable tax treatment for Tribal Governments. For too long, Indian Country has relied on the Treasury or Supreme Court to decide complex tax issues for Indian Country. Now is the time to be forward-looking as all enterprises recover and reset from this pandemic

These initiatives are designed to unite our Tribal Membership so we can actively engage our Federal partners in seeking additional funding relief to combat and address shortages caused by the COVID pandemic. We recognize our Tribal Governments and the gaming industry are going to be dealing with this pandemic well into next year, and our membership needs to be on the same page when a new Congress is sworn in this January.

The National Indian Gaming Association will keep its membership updated on upcoming meetings and conferences. For future meeting dates and times, whether virtual or in-person, please contact Danielle Her Many Horses dhermanyhorses@indiangaming.org, or Chelsea Blake cblake@indiangaming.org .

Senator Moran Colleagues Letter to Senator McConnell