HKS Authors

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Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Emeritus


The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides the largest infusion of federal funding for Indian Country in the history of the United States. More than $32 billion dollars is directed toward assisting American Indian nations and communities as they work to end and recover from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic – which was made worse in Indian Country precisely because such funding is long overdue. Below, we set out recommendations which we hope will promote the wise and productive allocation of ARPA funds to the nation’s 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes. We see ARPA as a potential “Marshall Plan” for the revitalization of Indian nations. The Act holds the promise of materially remedying at least some of the gross, documented, and long-standing underfunding of federal obligations and responsibilities in Indian Country. Yet, fulfilling that promise requires that the federal government expeditiously and wisely allocate ARPA funds to tribes, and that tribes efficiently and effectively deploy those funds to maximize their positive impacts on tribal communities. Toward these ends: • To enable tribes to recover and emerge stronger from the pandemic, we recommend wide scope be provided for tribes to invest COVID-19 relief funds in their basic physical, governmental, and educational infrastructures. • To facilitate consultation and promote sound policy development under ARPA, we recommend the establishment of a Treasury/Tribal ARPA Advisory Panel consisting of knowledgeable experts. • To provide guidance and reduce uncertainty regarding permissible ARPA spending and processes, we recommend the creation of a formal system of Tribal/ARPA Determination, Opinion, and Advisory Letters. • To provide much-needed technical assistance to tribes, we recommend the creation of a “hub and web” network of Treasury/Tribal ARPA Tech Centers, with the Treasury Department as the central hub, providing funding and serving as the central node responsible for coordinating and communicating with a set of discipline-spanning Centers. • To ensure maximum community benefit is derived from ARPA funding, we recommend that tribal governments adopt best-practice systems for prioritizing, planning, budgeting, contracting, implementing, and sustaining ARPA-funded projects and programs. • To allocate the ARPA funds dedicated to tribal governments, we recommend a three-part formula that uses data-ready drivers of apportionment and puts 40% weight on each tribe’s population of enrolled citizens, 30% weight on each tribe’s total of tribal government and tribal enterprise employees, and 30% weight on each tribe’s share of Indian Country’s coronavirus infections.


Henson, Eric C., Megan M. Hill, Miriam R. Jorgensen, and Joseph P. Kalt. "Recommendations for the Allocation and Administration of American Rescue Plan Act Funding for American Indian Tribal Governments." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP21-038, December 2021.