Published on April 15, 2021 at 1:05 p.m.
India’s infrastructure needs, for everything from water to housing to broadband, are a high priority in the Biden administration’s $2.2 trillion U.S. jobs plan, said this week Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg, on a call with reporters Monday to discuss the plan, said the need to improve 20th-century infrastructure on the lands of nearly 575 tribes has been ignored by the federal government for years.
“Many parts of Indian Country have been short of…maintenance of infrastructure investment, over the years,” Buttigieg said.
The American Jobs Plan is President Joe Biden’s $2.2 trillion plan to transform the nation’s infrastructure. Along with the U.S. bailout, which was intended to help Native Americans recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration wants the U.S. jobs plan to help solve the tribes’ growing infrastructure needs.
“When we talk about equity, we think a lot about racial and economic justice,”
Buttigieg said of the plan. “But we also think of parts of this country that have too often been left behind by the promises of this kind of great infrastructure.”
For Native American communities, those needs include essential water infrastructure, internet broadband, housing, transportation, tribal colleges and universities, and roads, Buttigieg said.
Broadband was among the tribes’ top priorities with the US bailout, funding for which was to come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many families have been without internet access throughout the pandemic, making it difficult for their students to take classes remotely.
Biden’s infrastructure plan aims to provide 100% broadband coverage in rural and tribal communities.
“The lack of broadband access on tribal lands is particularly serious,” said Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council. “There will be a significant tribal component to this.”
The American Jobs Plan also aims to inject funds into research and development programs for colleges and universities across the country, including tribal ones. But Monte Randall, president of the College of the Muscogee Nation, says broadband access remains his students’ top concern.
“There are definitely challenges connecting with our students on virtual platforms,” Randall said. Many students at College of the Muscogee Nation live in rural areas where internet access is not available.
The school received funding from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund in the CARES Act, the first pandemic relief bill approved last year, to provide students with laptops and laptops. internet access points, but the lack of internet access remains the biggest challenge.
The College of the Muscogee Nation focuses primarily on natural resources programs, but Randall said funding land grants and research and development programs at tribal universities would help his school “become more research-oriented.” .
Tribes nationwide are already set to receive $651 million for housing from the U.S. bailout, as well as $450 million in tribal housing assistance. Ramamurti said the US jobs plan will address the lack of affordable housing, as well as the maintenance of existing housing on tribal lands.
“The lack of affordable housing…is a national problem and particularly serious on tribal lands,” he said. “There is also a specific issue with the preservation and rehabilitation of existing housing on tribal lands, and so the housing components of the plan focus on this area.”
Buttigieg highlighted the importance of a robust transportation system in tribal and rural communities, which are often isolated from important resources.
“Mass transit, which I know people imagine, is a big city, but can be very important in many counties,” Buttigieg said. “A mass transit system is an important part of helping people get around, it’s the same in Indian country.”
Rural and Tribal Fact Sheets provided by the administration on the U.S. Jobs Plan say it will “more than double the Tribal Transportation Program to provide safe and adequate transportation and public road access to and within tribal areas”.
Ramamurti agreed with Buttigieg that it was time for the federal government to step in and invest in Native American communities.
“When it comes to infrastructure, the problem on tribal lands is particularly severe, reflecting, frankly, years and decades of underinvestment by the federal government,” he said. “And I think part of what we’re trying to do here is solve that problem.”
Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Cronkite News has partnered with OU to expand coverage of Indigenous communities.
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