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Letter to President Donald Trump - Mass. Lawmakers Urge Trump Administration to Fully Fund COVID-19 Response for Tribal Nations in Massachusetts

Letter

Dear President Trump:
We thank you again for approving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts's request for a
major disaster declaration due to the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Thank you, as well, for your COVID-19--related emergency declarations for each of the two
federally recognized tribal nations in Massachusetts: the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head
(Aquinnah), and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. As we have noted in a previous letter to you,4
the response to the pandemic is unlike anything the Commonwealth or our nation has
experienced in modern times, and the need for additional resources to combat this crisis grows
with each passing day. These needs are also felt acutely by the two federally recognized tribal
nations in Massachusetts, which are being stretched extremely thin in order to provide crucial
services to their citizens. Given the challenges that COVID-19 and its fallout are creating for the
Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, we ask you to
direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to waive the traditional cost share
requirements for all COVID-19--related assistance.

In early April, both Chairman Cedric Cromwell of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and
Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) wrote
to you, on behalf of their tribal nations, to request waivers from any cost share and to request that
FEMA increase its federal cost share to 100%. Unlike states, tribal nations do not have a tax base
to help cover the cost of services to their citizens. As Chairwoman Andrews-Maltais mentioned
in her letter to you, "Our Tribe relies exclusively upon our annual federal funding and a few
grants to offer the direct services we provide." Chairman Cromwell made a similar point, noting that the emergency costs will create "an untenable situation, and is currently causing our Tribe to
forego desperately-needed requests for resources."

As a result, unforeseen expenses like those associated with an emergency of this
magnitude impose a significant financial hardship on tribal nations, which could in turn preclude
their implementing emergency measures as fully as they would if they had more resources
available. It is in everyone's best interest--the tribal nations, their citizens, their neighbors,
emergency personnel at all levels of government, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts--
that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe be
given as much flexibility as possible to pursue their emergency response. A 100% federal cost
share for the two tribal nations will help accomplish that. As the National Congress of American
Indians (NCAI) and a coalition of other organizations noted in a letter to you, the non-federal
cost share has "prevented many tribal nations from taking essential actions such as ordering
lifesaving supplies, hiring emergency management personnel, and reaching out to FEMA for
assistance."

In addition, the federal government has trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations,
including the federally recognized tribal nations in Massachusetts. NCAI and the coalition wrote:
"The match requirement is inconsistent with the federal government's obligations to tribal
nations and their citizens."8 We agree. The federal government ought to provide COVID-19--
related assistance while allowing for the tribal nations to endure as little hardship as possible.

Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, you have the discretionary authority to adjust the cost share. At this time, it is important that every level of
government be able to marshal all its resources and capabilities in order to address this
pandemic. Granting the requests of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and waiving the traditional cost share requirements for all COVID19--related assistance to them, will better empower them to address this pandemic. We urge you
to do so and thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,


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