U.S. Treasury's Yellen to visit Sioux tribe, meet Canadian counterpart next week

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies before Congress in Washington

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will visit the Rosebud Sioux Tribe next week in South Dakota to discuss COVID-19 aid funding and will travel to Toronto to meet Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, the Treasury said on Monday.

Treasury and Rosebud Sioux officials said the visit on June 21 will give the tribe the opportunity to show Yellen the impact that some $195 million in American Rescue Plan funding is making on one of the poorest and largest tribal nations in the United States.

Officials from both the Treasury and the tribe said they could find no records of a Treasury secretary previously visiting any Native American nation. Yellen pledged last November to visit a tribal community during the next year.

In a statement, the Treasury said Yellen will "highlight the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on tribal communities and how the American Rescue Plan funds are supporting their recovery."

In Toronto on June 20, Treasury said Yellen would "reinforce the importance" of cooperating with allies to address major challenges.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted last year provided $20 billion in direct aid to tribal governments as part of a $350 billion pot of money for state, local and tribal governments, to be used to plug budget holes, develop affordable housing, provide job training and other projects.

The aid followed $8 billion from the 2020 COVID-19 bill known as the CARES Act, which funded tribal health responses and helped keep their businesses and households afloat during pandemic lockdowns.

"The CARES Act money was a lifesaver for us. It helped us save lots of lives and lots of hardship," said Wayne Boyd, chief of staff to Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Scott Herman.

"Now with the ARPA money, we're trying to rebuild our economy," Boyd added. "And one of the biggest needs that we've always had issues with is affordable housing."

Rosebud Sioux leaders plan to discuss with Yellen the tribe's plans for using ARPA funds to build more affordable housing for the tribe's 35,000 members, 26,000 of whom live on the reservation at the southern edge of central South Dakota, Boyd said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo last month called on state local and tribal governments to use more of their allocations of ARPA funds to address a severe shortage of affordable housing across the country.

As the Biden administration battles against high inflation, the $350 billion in state, local and tribal funding has been criticized by Republicans as a "slush fund." But it has emerged as a key social policy tool as Biden's broader social and climate spending agenda has languished in Congress.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Robert Birsel)

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