© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday said she would visit tribal communities over the next year as her department continues to expand its engagement with Native American tribes, which were hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yellen told the second day of a White House Tribal Nations Summit that nearly 100% of a $20 billion COVID-19 relief fund earmarked for tribes had been disbursed, which she said was “quite fast,” but more aid was needed.
A new $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law on Monday and a $1.75 trillion social and climate spending bill still working its way through Congress would provide further crucial support to tribal governments and families, she said.
Yellen said she realized soon after starting her job as Treasury Secretary that the department didn’t have adequate personnel or resources to help Native Americans struggling with the pandemic’s economic impact, as its contact had previously been limited largely to the Internal Revenue Service.
“You do not need a Ph.D. in economics to know that our economy has never worked well for Native Americans or people living in Indian country,” she said, according to a text of her remarks.
But she said the Biden administration was committed to changing that fact and ensuring that Native communities were represented at Treasury and in its policymaking decisions.
She said the rapid disbursement of recovery funds to tribal communities reflected that commitment and the creation of a “dedicated tribal team” in Treasury’s Office of Recovery Programs, which held over 10 consultation meetings and 50 information sessions over the past year.
“We’re going to keep doing everything we can to make sure your communities make it to the other side of this crisis,” she said, underscoring the boost that President Joe Biden’s planned increase in child-care spending and free preschool would provide to Native Americans.
Treasury had no immediate comment on the size of the new Treasury tribal team.