Tribal Communities Set to Receive Big New Infusion of Aid

Construction of a new building began after the tribe received its first batch of funding from the federal government last year and helped offset the tribe’s losses in casino revenue. The recent funds will be used to help complete the project and further stabilize the tribe’s economy.

“This will allow for those nurses who work with us, and eventually a doctor, to have a facility where they can provide services,” Mr. Forsman said.

Included in the relief package is an injection of more than $6 billion to the Indian Health Service, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Indian Health Service was created to carry out the government’s treaty obligations to provide health care to American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

The health service struggled to cope with the pandemic in some of the hardest-hit areas in the country. The agency said the new money would help with coronavirus testing and vaccination programs as well as with hiring more health care workers, expanding availability to mental health services and providing better access to water, a major issue in many tribal communities.

Beyond health care, the legislation addresses a range of other issues important to Native communities, including $20 million to establish an emergency Native language preservation and maintenance grant program, as tribes race to ensure that their languages are not lost with time and the deaths of older members during the pandemic.

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

“It took a lot of time just to sort of educate people about Indian Country and the structural — just the historic — lack of basics,” said Senator Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico. “There is a number of things converging, but I do think that the conversation around race also opened the door for people to realize, wait a minute, we never got around to getting running water and electricity and all these things, broadband, to Indian Country — like they’re not starting at the same place.”

While the $2.2 trillion stimulus law approved nearly a year ago included $8 billion for tribal governments, a portion of those funds remains frozen in a legal battle over who is eligible. Alaska Native corporations, for-profit businesses that serve tribal villages in Alaska, have sought to receive some of the money, prompting a monthslong battle over the definition of a tribal government.

Source: NYT > U.S. > Politics

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