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Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law sets aside $13 billion specifically for tribes, which are also eligible to compete for hundreds of billions more in other programs.

The trick now is getting the money out of the federal agencies and into the hands of tribal administrators.

To facilitate just that, the federal government has released a 15-page Tribal Playbook that outlines the what, when, where, and how to apply for funds. Agencies have also boosted efforts to coordinate federal grant programs to tribes.

Mitch Landrieu is White House senior advisor and infrastructure coordinator. Speaking with other federal officials at a press conference Tuesday, he said the law “makes transformative investments that will create generational impacts for tribal communities.” He said, “this is going to be the largest investment in tribal infrastructure in American history for Indian Country.”

Some of the areas of infrastructure addressed by the bipartisan law include funding for high-speed internet, clean drinking water, sanitation facilities, roads and bridges, and jobs in tribal communities. In addition it will upgrade electric infrastructure, and add to the resilience of communities to natural disasters.

The playbook outlining how to access funding is organized in two parts.

Specific set asides - One section identifies and provides guidance on where to seek technical assistance and more information on the $13 billion in programs and funding specifically set aside for tribal communities.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law tribal set asides  May 31, 2022 (Courtesy White House)

Competitive grants and waivers - The playbook also provides a guide to tribal eligibility for more than 150 programs and outlines specific benefits or flexibilities for tribes and tribal communities – like waivers for federal matching requirements for tribal nations that apply for competitive funds or enhanced benefits under existing programs for members of tribal nations.

In addition to the playbook, federal agencies are stepping up coordination efforts.

Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water, said a tribal infrastructure task force created in 2007 will be renewed.

The task force, she said, “has been an absolutely fantastic mechanism to improve federal government coordination, to deliver water infrastructure and financial assistance to tribes and Alaska Native villages. And we felt that, you know, now more than ever, we need to double down on this tribal infrastructure task force.” The agencies represented on the Task Force include the departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fox said the EPA is also implementing a tribal water action plan that includes “robust coordination and meaningful consultation.”

U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, center left, during a tour of the Cooks Landing in-lieu site on May 3. (Photo by Chris Aadland/Underscore.news and Indian Country Today)

Assistant Secretary for Department of Interior Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, Bay Mills Ojibwe, said, “we began this process with government-to-government consultations with tribes to ensure that we had the benefit of hearing directly from those communities. I've had the pleasure to travel with Secretary (Deb) Haaland, to hold listening sessions and hear from folks all across Indian Country to better understand their concerns, their barriers, and how these dollars can best serve them. 

"And we heard Indian country loud and clear about the need for more information about available funding capacity, building technical assistance, and speeding up the permitting process with the tribal playbook,” he said.

He said the Interior also is creating an infrastructure interagency coordination position to help Indian Country navigate these resources. “And we've issued a national policy memo directing the bureau of Indian affairs to prioritize permitting for any infrastructure projects so that these critical dollars can reach Indian country as quickly as possible,” Newland said.

Andrea Palm, deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, described a 2015 IHS study that found that nearly 10 percent of tribal households lack safe drinking water supplies and adequate waste disposal facilities compared to less than 1 percent of all homes across the country. 

She said “the bipartisan infrastructure law appropriates $700 million to the Indian Health Service each and every year between 2022 and 2026. And that's a total of $3.5 billion to build infrastructure to ensure a safe supply of drinking water, reliable sewage systems and solid waste disposal facilities.”

“And the funding will address the backlog of projects on the Indian Health Service sanitation sufficiency system list, which is a prioritized inventory of known sanitation issues for tribal households," Palm said. (Visit the IHS Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction website for a breakout of projects and costs by IHS Area as of December 31).

A complete Guidebook to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and other partners—including detailed information about awarding agencies, funding amounts, availability, and eligible uses—can be found here.

Agency Contact Information

Transportation: intergov@dot.gov
Interior: OIEA@ios.doi.gov
Commerce: CommerceIGA@doc.gov
Energy: DL-RegionalSpecialists@hq.doe.gov
Agriculture: EIA@usda.gov
Environmental Protection Agency: State&Local@epa.gov
Federal Emergency Management Agency: https://www.fema.gov/grants/mitigation/building-resilient-infrastructurecommunities

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