A huge amount of money is on its way to Alaska tribes under the American Rescue Plan Act passed by the U.S. Congress in March. Alaska tribes will receive over one billion dollars ($1,019,259,405) of the $1.9 trillion dollars the act provides.
Unlike the CARES Act funding, which had a short deadline, tribes can take as long as three years to spend these funds. Teresa Jacobsson of the Alaska Tribal Administrators Association (ATAA) said that tribes will have more leeway on how to spend the funds, but the government can’t just give tribal members checks.
“You can’t do that,” Jacobsson said, “you’ll end up having to pay it back. You have to show a need, which is show basic living essentials like housing and rent expenses, utilities, internet connectivity, personal cleaning and sanitation products. You have to tie the money to a COVID-related need.”
Tribes will also have to carefully document the spending, because their records will be reviewed by auditors. They can spend part of the funds to get professional help for managing and auditing the spending, but Jacobsson said that they will need to be careful. Word of the funding has gotten out, and there are some unscrupulous people who will want to take advantage of small tribal groups. At one of the Zoom meetings held by ATAA to help tribes, a lawyer shared stories about what happened to some tribes outside of Alaska.
Jacobsson said that these were “horror stories about some tribes in the lower 48 they represent who were taken advantage of by consultants or contractors with this big pot of money. So what we’ve been telling the tribes is 'be mindful.' Yes, it’s appropriate and necessary sometimes to use an outside entity to help support some of these needs, but we want to make sure that they’re doing their due diligence.”
Jacobsson said that ATAA has a list available of reputable auditors and other resources to help tribes. They can be reached at 907-222-1310 or at aktaa.org.
Correction: ATAA's phone number has been corrected.