NCUIH testified before the House on the impacts of COVID-19 in Indian Country | News


Emerging Coronavirus Impacts in Indian Country

Washington, DC — Francys Crevier (Algonquin), CEO of the National Council of Urban Indian Health, testified before the United States Indigenous Peoples Subcommittee, led by Chair Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM). The hearing is on the “emerging impacts of coronaviruses in Indian country”.

“Urban Indian organizations have continuously provided services in the hardest hit urban areas throughout the pandemic,” Crevier said. “There have been big improvements from a year ago in the availability of supplies, testing and vaccines, but that will never offset the number of Indigenous lives lost. Unfortunately, despite improvements, the situation for Aboriginal people has not improved. Ultimately, the little data that exists for Native Americans shows a stark reality: COVID-19 is killing Native Americans at a faster rate than any other community.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), an Urban Indian Health Champion, requested additional information on why Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) cannot perform any facility upgrades using federal funds. Ms. Crevier explained that India’s Healthcare Improvement Act contains unnecessary limitations on UIOs and called for a legislative solution to allow UIOs to use federal funds for facilities. Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) spoke about the longstanding inequities suffered by UIOs due to lack of full funding.

“Structural deficiencies have led to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Native American communities,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said. “We also need to identify ways to address the root causes of impacts. I have heard many times in today’s testimony the need for full funding, as required by fiduciary responsibility.

The president of the Chamber of Natural Resources, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), questioned Francys Crevier on the importance of an urban consultation process. She explained why it’s critical that federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have policies that address communication with UIOs. Ranking member Don Young (R-AK) discussed the reintroduction of Rep. Betty McCollum’s Advance Appropriations Bill for the entire Indian Health Service, including UIOs.

The hearing also included testimony from Chief William Smith, Chairman and Alaska Region Representative, National Indian Health Council. In his testimony, Chief Smith emphasized the importance of extending permanent 100% federal medical assistance percentages to UIOs and the need for mandatory appropriations for the Indian Health Service, Tribal Organizations and UIOs.

Ranking member Bruce Westerman (R-AR) acknowledged the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Native American and Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations and that current funding provided in the American Rescue Plan Act is commendable. Yet it is unsustainable for the needs and effectiveness of addressing historical health issues that plague AI/AN people. To reiterate Rep. Westerman’s request for increased funding, Rep. Young called on the subcommittee to introduce a landmark “native-only” bill to address funding and all needs that impact IA/AN populations and indigenous peoples.

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