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What’s next for tribes after the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill?

Feb 24, 2022

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill promises billions in help for tribes across the country, but there will be hurdles to clear before the money is allocated so it can be put to use.

The infrastructure funds will be allocated first to various federal agencies, Departments of Transportation, Commerce, Energy, for example, and distributed to  tribes in the form of competitive and formula grants or loans over the next several years. That’s a shift from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan funds where tribes received the money directly based upon the population and employee count and had discretion on how to spend it.

The timing may be a challenge for some tribes that have dire road and bridge repair needs or are eager to address internet or cybersecurity issues right away. Getting the money will take time. In many cases there will be a grant application process or other red tape. And delays mean costs could escalate.

Once the money is received, there will be oversight by the government to ensure the funds are used properly. Any misappropriation of funds, even if it’s accidental, can create more problems.

Even though it could be months or years before some of the funding is delivered, tribes should take steps now to prepare — starting with making a strategic plan and getting the right people and resource in place to execute the projects on the horizon.

Consider a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunity, threat) analysis to identify which projects are highest priority in your tribe. Capitalize on what works and address what doesn’t.

Identify the resources needed to obtain funding and keep projects moving. Does your tribe need grant writers or compliance experts? An infrastructure and planning team? Experienced project managers? Filling those roles during the national labor shortage could be a challenge, especially for tribes in remote areas, and that should be a consideration in any strategic plan.

Massive, years-long projects come with their own unique issues. Cost overruns and construction delays are common and should be considered in grant requests. California’s high-speed rail initiative and Kentucky’s broadband plans are two recent examples of projects that took longer and cost more than originally expected. A three-year bridge repair, for example, could see the same issues.

Despite the hurdles involved, the infrastructure bill should be a boon to tribes. It is scheduled to invest more than $13 billion in tribes and tribal lands, including:

  • $6 billion to support water infrastructure
  • $4 billion for roads and bridges
  • $2 billion in dedicated funding for expansion of broadband
  • $32 million in cybersecurity grants
  • $216 million to support voluntary relocations for tribal communities most vulnerable to climate change disaster
  • $150 to remediate orphaned wells on tribal lands
  • $172 million to support salmon recovery efforts
  • $60 million in Tribal fish passage improvements

There are also billions of dollars intended for tribal communities but whose purpose has not been identified. Those designations will be made after consultation with tribal leaders.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law will rebuild tribal roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water for Native communities, ensure every Native American has access to high-speed internet, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in Tribal communities that have too often been left behind,” the whitehouse.gov fact sheet said.

How Wipfli can help

Wipfli’s dedicated tribal team can help you define your vision and help you create a strategic plan that will achieve your goals. Our integrated services include the accounting, business advisory and technology consulting resources to help ensure your tribe thrives well into the future. Learn more on our tribal government services web page.

Author(s)

Suresh Geer
Director
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