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WASHINGTON, D.C — Congress approved a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package last week, including a historic appropriation of $31.2 billion dedicated to stabilizing Native communities, the largest one-time investment in history for Indigenous peoples.

The Native funding includes money for health care, housing, childcare, tribal government services, education, infrastructure, language revitalization and domestic violence protection.

Among the multibillion dollar investments is $500 million for tribal governments to support capital investments in Native businesses via the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s State Small Business Credit Initiative.

The money will be allocated to tribes to assist small businesses through new or existing small business financing programs, sources with knowledge of the policy at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs told Tribal Business News. Tribes will be able to design their own financing programs to meet the specific needs of their communities, according to a 2021 Congressional study on the State Small Business Credit Initiative. Funding will be allocated based on employment and economic data.

Chris James, president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, said this historic investment in Indian Country is sorely needed. 

“Based on a survey from last summer, tribally and Native-owned businesses are struggling to make ends meet, with more than 40 percent forced to furlough or lay off their employees,” James said. “For many of these businesses, the challenges have only increased in the last eight months. I am confident the significant funding in the American Rescue Plan Act dedicated to Native Americans, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiians will make a tremendous impact for those who need it most.”

The act authorizes five types of small business support programs: capital access, loan participation, loan guarantees, collateral support, and venture capital, according to the report. Tribes will work with the Department of the Treasury to help set up the program for small businesses. 

Eligibility for the capital investment support will likely be set by each of the tribes based on their own criteria.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the bill was in response to a need for relief among Native communities hard hit by the pandemic.  

“This historic funding is a down payment on the federal government’s trust responsibility to Native communities and will empower American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians to tackle COVID-19’s impacts on their communities,” Schatz said in a statement

On Thursday, President Biden signed the historic bill on video, saying that the essence of the bill was to give “people who built the country a fighting chance.”

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About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna Kunze
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Kunze’s bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.
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