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Kolby KickingWoman

Indian Country Today

An interim federal rule that prevented tribal casinos from getting loans through a relief fund created by Congress to help small businesses through the coronavirus crisis has been updated to allow them to apply.

The U.S. House on Thursday passed an additional COVID-19 relief bill that included $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Small tribal businesses and gaming operations that employ fewer than 500 people can now apply.

“After speaking with multiple officials within the Trump administration on numerous occasions, I am grateful they have heeded our words and will allow tribally-owned entities to be recognized with the same eligibility as other businesses,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw Nation, R-Oklahoma. “Financial security is vital in protecting tribal sovereignty during this crisis, and this change in policy will benefit tribes of various sizes, including smaller tribes that are in need of this help the most.”

In the bill’s first passage, any businesses that had fewer than 500 employees but made more than one-third of their revenue from legal gambling were deemed ineligible. Many tribal gaming operations fit this definition and were left out to dry.

Related: Two weeks. $350 billion. (And a lot of tribes are waiting for help making payroll)

The updated rule still excludes businesses that receive illegal gambling revenue. Including legal gaming operations is more in line with how the program was meant to be implemented, Administrator Caranza wrote in the update.

“On further consideration, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary, believes this approach is more consistent with the policy aim of making PPP loans available to a broad segment of U.S. businesses.

Earlier this month, Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, D-Kansas, and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, led a bipartisan effort to make tribal casinos with fewer than 500 workers eligible.

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The letter signed by 38 members of Congress was sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza.

In a news release the day the letter was sent, Gallego said small tribal businesses, including gaming operations, are “essential to tribal sovereignty,” and support not only the well-being of tribal nations but the economy of surrounding communities. He said it was critical that they be eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Davids said in a statement that she appreciated that their concerns were heard.

“We should be doing everything we can to support our small businesses right now, including our tribal businesses, which are vital employers for Tribal Reservations and their surrounding communities,” she said. “I commend Small Business Administrator Carranza for listening to our concerns and making sure tribal small businesses can access these critical loan programs as Congress intended so they can pay their employees, keep their businesses afloat, and help preserve their economy.” 

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -

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