When he addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, April 28, President Biden had a full agenda to cover, including the help families need to survive the pandemic, literally and economically.
One message in particular that tribes needed to hear was left unaddressed. Tribal governments are required to take note of deadlines that could leave them out of critical funding made available through The American Rescue Plan, and there isn’t much time.
Delivering that message to all 574 federally recognized tribes is paramount, particularly with Native communities among the worst hit by the pandemic and the economic damage that followed.
In its first drafts, the recovery bill the President signed on March 11th of this year did not include funding for tribes to provide small business credit support and investment programs. The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development joined in the advocacy, along with partners, to change that.
In its final form, the rescue plan provides $10 billion to fund the State Small Business Credit Initiative or SSBCI, and a part of that will go to tribal governments. The impact to our Native American small businesses can and will address long-standing financing gaps. This includes support for new small businesses as well as creating and retaining jobs in some of our must underserved communities.
The window of opportunity to leverage those resources is short. Signed on March 11th, the rescue plan requires tribal governments to submit a “Notice of Intent to Apply” by June 11th, barely a month after establishing and publishing the preliminary allocation amounts that will be available to each.
To be clear, the U.S. Department of Treasury should be commended for its efforts to maximize these funds in Indian Country. Now, direct engagement with organizations and tribes that can help increase access to this critical program is needed. The President’s advisors in the White House and at the Treasury should participate in our efforts to outline the process, answer questions, and dispel inaccurate information about federal assistance and the SSBCI program specifically.
Taxpayers would also be well served by the creation of a set-aside from the technical assistance funding for tribal governments, enterprises, and Native CDFIs for small businesses eligible for investment under the SSBCI program.
More will need to be done. Treasury can help expand support by assisting tribes with the creation of innovative funding models. This includes creating or expanding venture capital, creating partnerships with existing Native Community Development Financing Institutions (CDFIs) or supporting the development of other forms of small business financing. All of this will lead to a vital infusion of needed capital in tribal communities and for Native-owned businesses. The Biden Administration should take further steps to develop industry sector-focused credit support programs, which range from agriculture producers, to clean energy companies, to health care, to infrastructure deployment.
That approach reflects a new reality, those tribal governments and Native-owned businesses have come a long way. Entrepreneurship in Indian Country today spans sectors and industries, including our national defense, just as Native Americans now see one of their own in a presidential Cabinet and in appointments at all levels of government. Combined with the new Administration reinstating the White House Council on Native American Affairs, those are positive developments.
What happens externally, though, through the organizations and tribal governments that have a consistent presence in our communities, is just as important. We work with every Administration, regardless of party affiliation, and we’re there when the federal government is not.
New and bolstered efforts by the federal government will be most effective if they work with us. It doesn’t have to be through big speeches, but where it matters most: in our communities.
This essay does not necessarily reflect the view of Indian Country Today; voices in our opinion section represent a variety of reader points of view. If you would like to contribute an essay to Indian Country Today, email the opinion editor, Vincent Schilling at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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