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As Tribes Wait For Coronavirus Aid, Senators Argue For Different Funding Model

usbotschaftberlin/U.S. Govt.

COVID-19 relief funds need to be administered quickly – and fairly – to Native American tribes, say Oregon lawmakers. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden want stimulus aid to not adhere to a population-based formula.

The Oregon Democrats argue that such a formula limits tribes’ abilities to help their respective communities. Most are small, scattered, and in rural areas where infrastructure and services are often underfunded and dated. Senator Wyden:

“The tribes have been hit very hard, both from a health and economic standpoint.”

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Chris Mercier is a tribal councilmember with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. He says because of pandemic measures, they’ve had to close down their casino which was their primary economic generator.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty and we feel comfortable with where we’re at right now," Mercier tells KLCC. 

"But staying closed indefinitely could have some pretty dire consequences for our tribal government.”

Mercier says he’s not sure what form direct aid from the federal government will look like, just that they’re hoping it arrives soon.  He adds that the tribe's gas station and convenience store also provide revenues, but it's "nowhere near" what the casino provides.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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