House approves extension of Native corporation relief funds

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. House has passed legislation to extend a year-end deadline for Alaska Native corporations and tribes to use federal coronavirus relief funds. But it isn’t the same bill that earlier passed the Senate.

The House bill was introduced by Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran, a Democrat, and Alaska Rep. Don Young, a Republican.

Kaitlin Hooker, a O’Halleran spokesperson, said the bill now goes to the Senate. Hooker noted the House has not considered the bill the Senate passed in October.

Young, in a statement, called for urgent Senate action.

“Indigenous people were some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and pulling the rug out from under them by letting an arbitrary deadline take away these needed resources is a flagrant violation of our federal trust responsibility,” he said.

Karina Borger, a spokesperson for Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said Alaska’s congressional delegation was “working every angle possible” to get an extension in place.

Zack Brown, a Young spokesperson, said in an email that whether it’s “the House legislation or the Senate legislation, the clock is ticking and Leadership needs to act and schedule one of these fixes for a final vote.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled Alaska Native corporations were entitled to funds, but the executive director of the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association has said that some corporations have yet to receive funds and others face challenges distributing money they have received.

Tribes began receiving funds in the spring of 2020. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office cited issues with the rollout, including guidance from the Department of the Treasury for use of funds that changed over time.

The extensions proposed are for a year. The House bill would push the deadline to Dec. 30, 2022, according to O’Halleran’s office. The Senate bill called for pushing it to Dec. 31, 2022, according to Alaska’s U.S. senators.