The COVID-19 hit to Indian Country is nearly $50 billion

A patron wearing a mask, plays a slot machine at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Friday, March 20, 2020, in Hollywood, Fla. The Seminole Tribe closed its casinos, the latest virus-related closures affecting a state that is heavily dependent on tourism and consumer spending to pay its bills. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Mark Trahant

Developing story. Harvard study looks at loss of payroll, income

Indian Country stands to lose nearly $50 billion in economic activity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a team of Harvard researchers.

Researchers Randall Akee, Eric Henson, Miriam Jorgensen and Joseph Kalt of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development said new research shows that three decades of economic progress are at risk because of the virus and the economic collapse. 

In a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin the research team said the crisis poses an immediate threat to three decades of steady improvement in economic conditions across Indian Country. 

"Under federal policies of self‐determination through self‐government, tribes now routinely undertake and largely self‐fund the full array of basic governmental services that any state or local government is expected to provide," the researchers wrote. "Yet, tribes lack traditional tax bases. Instead, they overwhelmingly rely for funding on the earnings of their gaming and non‐gaming business enterprises.To protect the health of their citizens and the communities around them, the tribes have now closed all 500+ tribal casinos and many of their non‐gaming businesses. In the wake of these closures, tribes are facing massive layoffs, their workers’ losing insurance coverage, dipping into hard‐earned assets, and building up debt."

The Harvard research team estimates that directly and through spillover effects into surrounding communities, tribal gaming and non‐gaming enterprises and tribal governments together support more than 1.1 million jobs and more than $49.5 billion in annual wages and benefits for American workers. 

Nearly a million of those jobs, the researchers found, are held by non-Indians with associated annual wages and benefits worth fully $40 billion. 

"Even state, local and federal tax revenues are facing severe hits from the impact of the current crisis affecting tribes – to the tune of $9.4 billion per year at the state and local level, and $15.9 billion federally," the Harvard project said.

"The need for COVID‐19 response funds is correspondingly great," the letter said. The Harvard project posted its recommendations that it sent to the Treasury Department.

This is a developing story.

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