Restarting Indian Country's economic engine

Miriam Jorgensen

Indian Country Today

The data is startling to folks who haven't thought about the significant economic impact of Indian country, such as 900,000 jobs supporting non-Indians

Several researchers recently released a report about the need for federal funding to support tribes during this pandemic and the importance of $8 Billion dollars in CARES Act funding quickly. Today on Indian Country Today two of those researches talk about the report and the letter they sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. 

Randall Akee is an associate professor in the department of Public Policy at the University of California Los Angeles.  

Miriam Jorgensen is the research director for the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and she's also the research director for the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona. 

Randall Akee
Randall Akee

Here are a few of Randall Akee's comments:

 "We estimated that something like over a million jobs are contained within this (Indian gaming) industry. You know, almost 900,000 of them are non-native."

It comes back down to the provisions in the CARES Act that are really dedicated to reimbursement of cost and outlays related to COVID expenses."

"Having to document all of those expenses in a way that is only tied to COVID-19 ... in such a short timeframe having to spend the money by the end of the actual year 2020 and document all of those expenses. It seems like a bit of an extra burden for tribal governments that are already sort of strained at capacity to begin with."

We've had a few indications from folks who work in treasury that there has been some attention paid. At least they've indicated that they've received the letter and other information that we've put out. "

"There is hope and there is sort of this aspiration that there will be additional CARES Act or funding, going on and hopefully this may inform that for future legislation related to COVID-19. "

Here are a few comments by Miriam Jorgensen:

"That's one of the things to stress that that's part of what makes this a preliminary report is that a lot of our estimates were based off of the gaming because that's where we had some of the best data."

"We of course know that tribes have tribal governments that are managing tribal governmental operations and are involved in a tremendous, tremendous, wide range of things"

"Tribes own other kinds of enterprises. They're in extractive industry enterprises. They're in tech enterprises. They're in various kinds of manufacturing. And so by the time all that data is counted in, we think we're actually going to get somewhat larger numbers. So this is a preliminary report and the data is still I think startling to folks who haven't thought about the significant economic impact of Indian country."

What we've really boiled down to is the idea that there have been now two requests by treasury going out to tribes, asking them for a lot of information, a lot of detailed information that, that of course tribes have."

"But at this time does it make a lot of sense for the federal government to be asking them to make these massive submissions of information?"

"Our experience with the distribution of the first 60% of the dollars was that treasury barely used any of that information. And instead referred to other data that existed within the federal government to make its distribution or its allocation out to tribes."

"I would say the other industry that we're super worried about outside of energy is tourism based industry."

"But we're also talking about hunting and fishing other kinds of outdoor based activities that these obviously are difficult to maintain in the face of the pandemic for exactly the kinds of reasons you cited in part of the intro, which is tribes are nervous about people coming and yet this has also been a real mainstay for tribes."

"That's not to say that Alaska Native Corporations aren't doing vitally important work in Alaska. They're just not governments. And so just to clarify, our first report, which is that letter to secretary of the nation that talks about the preliminary study data that we have is looking solely at the contribution of American Indian tribal governments in the lower 48 States."

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye gives the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the program is Patty Talahongva. 

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