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Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S. Senator - Retired

The National pandemic is entering a new phase, with more than 4.6 million cases nationwide, 2,000,000 new cases in July alone, and 1,200 deaths yesterday. Native Americans suffer serious disease and death at the highest per capita rate. The American economy is in dangerous territory, with a 33% drop in the GDP during the second quarter. Indian nations face catastrophic economic losses, and without additional support, many tribal businesses will never recover.

Tribal governments are devastated. Our tribal government revenues fund essential services, including schools, health care, police and fire, child and elder care, water, sewer and sanitation services. The loss of these revenues is a catastrophic loss for the health and well-being of our tribal communities.

Across America, in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus, Indian nations suspended gaming, closed our hotels and all of our ancillary businesses in the first and second quarters of 2020. When tribal governments re-opened our gaming, hospitality and tribal business in May and June, capacity was generally limited to 50% to allow social distancing. Masks and temperature checks are required for both employees and patrons. Conventions, concerts, and events are cancelled.

Nationwide, Indian gaming is among the top 12 employers, creating 780,000 jobs (direct and indirect) and generating $35 billion in tribal government revenue in 2019.

Tribal hospitality, spas, golf courses, gift shops, retail and convenience store enterprises generate an additional $6 billion in revenue. Native agriculture and natural resources create hundreds of thousands of native jobs and generate $7 billion in sales, according to the Interior Department. The nationwide economic impact of Indian gaming (direct and indirect) is $105 billion, generating $36 billion in Wages, $15 billion to Vendors, and $15 billion in Payments to Federal, State and Local Government. Small tribal businesses (including SBA 8(a)) nationwide generate more than $50 billion annually. Due to the pandemic, tribal government revenues will be down by $40 billion.

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As a matter of public health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans are among those hit hardest by COVID-19. Per capita, Native Americans have the highest infection rates, the highest risk of hospitalization and serious injury, followed closely by Hispanic Americans and African Americans. CDC explains: limited health care access, difficult occupations, housing, education, income and wealth gaps negatively impact health status. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported “In recent weeks, Hispanics and Native Americans have made up an increasing proportion of Covid-19 deaths. The disease now accounts for nearly 20 percent of all deaths among those groups.”

As Congress considers the next COVID-19 legislation funds must provide support state-local-tribal governments. Specifically, tribal governments need $25 billion in this bill to address our needs, including lost revenue. And, we ask Congress not to restrict the use of the funds, as we work to help our Native People keep the rent paid, the electricity on, and the food on the table.

Tribes need help for our unemployed workers. We support full funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, and encourage Congress to maintain the 500 employee small business rule. The Municipal Bond Program must be adjusted to provide tribal governments meaningful access to re-finance debt during the economic crisis. Given the number of employees tied to tribal governments as employers, tribes must remain viable for the return of the American economy this year and next. Reasonable limits on business liability will help re-open America’s economy and tribal sovereign immunity must be equal to state sovereign immunity.

Native People need support for the Indian Health Service to tribal public health, where our Indian patients are funded at $9,100 less per patient per year than Medicaid patients. On Indian lands, we lack infrastructure: some remote homes do not have indoor plumbing. It’s hard for our Native families to wash hands without running water. Federal help is an essential lifeline.

We call upon the President and Congress to work together to fight the Pandemic and save the Economy: Keep America safe, strong and healthy. 

Ben Nighthorse Campbell is a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Campbell is a Korean War Veteran and Captain of the 1964 Olympic Judo Team. He served in the United States House of Representatives from1987-93, and in the United States Senate from 1993-2005.

Ernie Stevens, Jr. is the Chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association in Washington, D.C. Stevens is currently in his ninth two-year term as the organization’s leader, which is a position elected by the member tribes of the National Indian Gaming Association. As Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, Stevens represents the Indian gaming industry. In this role, he has worked to educate Congress, the media and the public about the positive impacts of Indian gaming on tribal and nearby communities. Stevens is also responsible for shaping policy initiatives that have the potential to impact the industry. Stevens has led the Association and worked to protect Tribal Sovereignty and strengthen the Indian gaming industry. During his tenure, Indian gaming revenues have risen from $11 billion in 2000 to over $39.1 billion in 2018 making Tribal Government Gaming the largest segment of the Gaming Industry in the United States, passing Commercial Gaming.