Dems' Bill Would Let Tribes Tap Emergency CDC Funds

By Emma Whitford
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Law360 (March 16, 2020, 5:35 PM EDT) -- Tribes would be able to apply for emergency funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under legislation Senate and House Democrats have proposed to combat the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The legislation, dubbed the Tribal Public Health Security and Preparedness Act, was introduced Thursday in the U.S. Senate and Friday in the U.S. House of Representatives. It would allow tribes and tribal organizations to apply for the CDC's public health emergency preparedness, or PHEP, program, for the first time.

PHEP provides funding for state and local health departments to respond to public health emergencies, including pandemics and natural disasters, according to the CDC's website.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced S. 3486, and Reps. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., unveiled H.B. 6274. The latter was also referred Friday to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

"All government entities should have equal access to programs that help manage public health emergencies, but right now tribes are left behind," Haaland, who co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus, said in a statement.

"It is part of our legal federal trust responsibility to ensure that tribal communities have the resources they need to prepare for and address public health emergencies like the one we are dealing with right now," Gallego, chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples within the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

Haaland and Gallego introduced their emergency tribal funding bill just as President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to address the coronavirus pandemic, releasing billions of dollars in funding and increasing oil reserves, among other measures.

And last Wednesday, the CDC announced more than $560 million in funding for COVID-19 response to "states, localities, territories and tribes," according to a press release on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. 

But urban Indian organizations across the country have yet to receive any federal funding to address COVID-19, a spokesperson for the National Council of Urban Indian Health told Law360. 

The Tribal Public Health Security and Preparedness Act states that the CDC must "consult with Indian tribes and tribal organizations on the design of this program" to ensure the government is responding to the specific needs of tribes.

A spokesperson for the CDC said Monday that the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

Both the NCUIH and the National Indian Health Board expressed support Friday for the emergency funding legislation.

"In times of emergency, it is critical that lives are not lost due to bureaucratic red tape," the NCUIH said in a statement. "As CDC works to help prepare for public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that Indian Country is not left behind."

--Additional reporting by Andrew Kragie. Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

Update: This story has been updated with additional information from the CDC and NCUIH. 

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