August 07, 2020

Mass. Congressional Delegation Reiterates Request for Trump Administration to Fully Fund COVID-19 Response for Tribal Nations in Massachusetts

Lawmakers Ask FEMA to Waive Cost-Share Requirements for Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

Text of Letter (PDF)


Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Representatives William Keating (D-MA-09), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08), Katherine Clark (D-MA-05), Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA-04), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Richard E. Neal (D-MA-01), Seth Moulton (D-MA-06), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07) sent a letter to President Trump to reiterate their request to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to waive all of the traditional cost-share requirements for all COVID-19-related assistance for the Commonwealth's two federally recognized tribal nations, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. 


In early April, the chairperson of each tribal nation wrote to President Trump to request a waiver from any cost share, citing the financial hardship caused by the pandemic. The Massachusetts congressional delegation then wrote to President Trump to urge him to direct FEMA to increase its federal cost share to 100% for the two tribal nations. Unlike states, the two tribal nations do not have a tax base to help cover the cost of services to their citizens and as a result, they have not been able to implement fully all the emergency measures they would have been able to take if they did not bear a significant share of the cost. In addition, the federal government's trust and treaty obligations require that tribal nations not be left to suffer severe hardship from an emergency.


“We have not received a reply to our letter, nor have the tribal nations received a response to their requests. Given the emergency faced by the tribal nations, and their nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government, further delays are unacceptable,” the lawmakers wrote.


“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate and tragic impact on Native communities. Seven tribal nations have COVID-19 case rates higher than any state in the United States. Indian Country has not received adequate resources for public health and emergency management, either before or during this public health emergency,” the lawmakers wrote. 


“Granting the requests of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and waiving the traditional cost share requirements for all COVID-19–related assistance to them, will better empower them to address this pandemic,” the lawmakers continued. They also noted that other funding provided by Congress to tribal nations is not a substitute for this waiver. 


Senator Warren has been very active in working to ensure Indian Country has the resources it needs and is owed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. She introduced the Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act (S. 3514), legislation that would guarantee that the Indian Health Service (IHS), tribal health authorities, and urban Indian organizations have access to the Strategic National Stockpile, a federal repository of drugs and medical supplies that can be tapped if a public health emergency could exhaust local supplies. Senator Warren cosponsored Senator Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) CDC Tribal Public Health Security and Preparedness Act (S. 3486), which would enable tribal nations and tribal organizations to apply directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Public Health Emergency Preparedness program funds. She joined two letters to the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration, urging them to make the Paycheck Protection Program (established by the CARES Act) available to all tribal small businesses, as the statute required.


She announced the COVID-19 Emergency Manufacturing Act (S. 3847), legislation that will provide COVID-19 products at no cost to federal, state, local, and IHS and tribal health programs. Senator Warren joined Senator Smith in urging Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to immediately disburse $8 billion in critical relief funds to eligible tribal governments. She joined Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on a letter asking that future COVID-19 legislation provide additional funding for IHS, tribal health programs, and urban Indian health organizations. She announced the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act (S. 3848), legislation that will establish a federal contact tracing program. The bill requires consultation with tribal health authorities and funding for IHS. She and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) requested that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights examine the federal government's response to the impact of COVID-19 in Indian Country; the Commission agreed to that request. The two legislators also coauthored an op-ed calling for a more robust federal response to the pandemic’s effects on tribal populations. Together they also introduced the DIGITAL Reservations Act (S. 4331),  historic legislation that would affirm tribal nations’ and Native Hawaiian organizations’ ownership of broadband spectrum over their lands to deploy wireless internet services—an especially urgent priority during the pandemic.