Comments

During the year, USET SPF leadership attends consultations, listening sessions, commission meetings, and various committees to advocate legislation on various issues, subjects, and initiatives.  USET SPF also will comment on notices of proposed rulemaking, legislation, or court cases.  Click on the links below for specific comments you would like to view from USET SPF.

Topic
Title
Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)

USET SPF Comments to the Federal Reserve on the Community Reinvestment Act, Docket No. R-1723, RIN: 7100-AF94 – February 16

SUMMARY: Economic sovereignty is essential to Indian Country’s ability to be self-determining and self-sufficient. The current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in harmful impacts to Indian Country’s financial and operational capabilities, exacerbating existing inequities resulting from the federal government’s failure to deliver upon its obligation to support Tribal economic development, as well as centuries of termination policy. Modernizing the CRA to benefit economic opportunity for Indian Country will provide the foundation for economic recovery and growth during and following the COVID-19 crisis. USET SPF is pleased to have the Federal Reserve take a proactive and determined approach in addressing the financial shortfalls of capital access and investment in Indian Country.
The CRA established several criteria to rate financial institutions based on four main areas: assessment area delineations, lending tests, community development tests, and ratings. However, there is not much discernible data regarding the local economic impact of non-Native banking institutions on Tribal communities. What is undeniably apparent, though, is that Tribal Nations continue to experience inequitable access to financial resources provided by non-Native banking institutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has further emphasized the shortfalls of these institutions and their inclination to overlook the financial circumstances of Indian Country. CRA regulations must be revised to ensure that regulators are educated on the challenges Tribal Nations experience in accessing financial resources from banking institutions. Similarly, in conducting examinations of these institutions, regulators should be trained to identify and document instances where these institutions fail to meet CRA directives to support Tribal communities. This data can be utilized to improve financial services for Tribal Nations and our citizens, especially as Indian Country continues to address the economic and operational ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis. Adopting and implementing these recommendations with further the Federal Reserve’s trust and treaty obligations to support economic opportunity and development for Tribal Nations. USET SPF looks forward to continuing to work with the Federal Reserve to ensure that beneficial and pragmatic updates included in the modernization of current CRA regulations.

Tribal Broadband

USET SPF Comments to NTIA on Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program – February 11

SUMMARY: Decades of broken promises, neglect, underfunding, and inaction on behalf of the federal government have left Indian Country severely under-resourced and at extreme risk during this crisis. Our existing systems of service delivery and infrastructure are experiencing greater stress than those of other units of government, as we seek to maintain essential services and deliver upon our commitments, as well as dedicate resources to the unique circumstances of COVID-19 response.
On February 2, 2021 NTIA announced three Tribal Consultations scheduled for February 5, 10, and 12, 2021 to receive recommendations from Tribal Nations regarding implementation of the TBCG Program. USET SPF has several concerns regarding questions posed by NTIA during these consultations, which will inform how they agency will structure the implementation and disbursement of TBCG Program funds. Specifically, we are concerned that program funds could potentially be allocated in a manner that does not support equitable access for all Tribal Nations. Similarly, USET SPF is concerned with questions posed by NTIA regarding the streamlining of historical, environmental, and cultural review processes for infrastructure deployment. In structuring the TBCG Program, NTIA must support and uphold our sovereign right to determine how best to use these funds for the benefit of our citizens. NTIA must ensure that funding is delivered via the most expedient mechanisms while providing sufficient opportunity and equitable access for all Tribal Nations to receive and expend these resources.
Acknowledging and understanding the diversity of Indian Country’s circumstances and priorities for broadband access will further NTIA’s directive to equitably disburse TBCG Program funds. As NTIA proceeds in structuring the funding allocation and programmatic requirements and deliverables of the TBCG program, it is imperative that all due circumstantial considerations be given to benefit Tribal Nations. In the arena of federal broadband funding and support for Tribal Nations, NTIA has largely been absent and an unknown federal entity in Indian Country. However, implementation of the TBCG Program provides NTIA with an opportunity to build upon its delivery of trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations. While the TBCG Program will not solve all the broadband access and connectivity issues throughout Indian Country, it has the potential to lay a foundation for addressing Tribal Nation broadband disparities during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Health IT Modernization

USET SPF Comments to IHS on Health IT Modernization – January 22

SUMMARY: Based on the update provided by IHS during the listening session held on January 14th, steady progress continues to be made on the modernization of health IT within the Agency. While progress has been made, USET SPF underscores the importance of including Tribal Nations throughout the process. Through the health IT modernization process, the federal government must ensure it upholds its trust obligations of providing healthcare Tribal Nations in a manner that does not burden the chronically underfunded Indian health system.
IHS must be cognizant of and prepared to address a diverse set of circumstances and requirements when implementing the replacement of RPMS and beyond. USET SPF asserts that the federal government has fallen short of its trust obligation to Indian Country by under-resourcing our health IT. In partnership with Tribal Nations, IHS must work to ensure that the entire Indian Health System is brought into the 21st century. This includes working to upgrade and maintain our health IT systems.

Coronavirus USET SPF Comments re: Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act – January 8
SUMMARY: The $1 billion includes critical funding for the Indian Healthcare System to plan for and administer COVID-19 vaccines within Indian Country as well as funding for a multitude of COVID-19 testing and surveillance activities. On Monday, January 4th, IHS hosted a consultation call with Tribal leaders to gather input on what factors to consider in developing a methodology for the allocation of these funds. USET SPF reiterates the feedback and recommendations provided by the leaders of our Member Tribal Nations on the call who underscored the importance of utilizing a methodology that will ensure rapid distribution to our communities that is equitable, flexible, and reflective of our sovereign governmental status.
Due to the federal government’s chronic failure to fully fund the Indian Healthcare System, as well as ongoing failures to provide necessary resources, Tribal Nations continue to operate with limited and diminishing resources as we work to address the impacts of COVID-19. As the virus continues to ravage our communities, it is critical that IHS work in conjunction with Tribal Nations, not just in determining a rapid, equitable, and non-competitive mechanism for the $1 billion in funding, but in all resource determinations and allocations in order to better deliver upon the federal trust responsibility.
FEMA/Pandemic USET SPF Comments re: FEMA Tribal Pandemic Assistance – January 8
SUMMARY:  As the pandemic took hold in the United States in early 2020, FEMA issued several policy revisions and guidance’s to its Public Assistance programs following the March 13, 2020 Presidential Nationwide Emergency Declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act). USET SPF appreciates the efforts of FEMA to expand opportunities for Tribal Nations to access Public Assistance programs and resources during this unprecedented pandemic. FEMA has reported that over 200 Tribal Nations have applied for assistance from FEMA as Public Assistance recipients or subrecipients under an emergency or major disaster declaration. However, there remain several barriers for Tribal Nations in access to Public Assistance funds, as well as the full range of programs and services offered by FEMA.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented nationwide and global emergency requiring significant, immediate response and coordination. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise exponentially in the U.S., Indian Country continues to face disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection. FEMA has a fiduciary trust obligation to ensure Tribal Nations are provided access to vital funds and resources to address COVID-19. In order to fulfill this obligation, FEMA must remove programmatic barriers to access resources, establish uniform practices for coordination with Tribal Nations across its regions, and assist Tribal Nations with obtaining up-front resources and a waiver of the 25 percent cost-share. Additionally, USET SPF strongly recommends that FEMA actively consult and coordinate with Tribal Nations on a regular basis. While we appreciate the recent efforts by FEMA to consult on the numerous programmatic and guidance changes it has taken in response to COVID-19, Tribal Consultation should have occurred at the onset of COVID-19 and on a much more frequent basis throughout 2020. USET SPF looks forward to continuing to work with FEMA to address COVID-19 impacts on Tribal Nations and to ensure vital funds and resources are available to Indian Country.