Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development releases research on allocation of COVID‐19 response funds

April 13, 2020
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development releases research on allocation of COVID‐19 response funds

Cambridge,  MA  –  A  team  of  Harvard  Project  researchers  today  released  the  preliminary  results  of  its  study  of  the  impact  of  the  COVID‐19  crisis  on  the  economies  and governments  of  the  country’s  574  federally‐recognized  American  Indian  nations.  Writing  to  Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin, researchers Randall Akee, Eric Henson, Miriam Jorgensen and Joseph Kalt report that the COVID‐19 crisis poses an immediate threat to three decades of steady improvement in economic conditions across Indian Country.  

Under  federal  policies  of  self‐determination  through  self‐government,  tribes  now  routinely  undertake and largely self‐fund the full array of basic governmental services that any state or local government is expected to provide.  Yet, tribes lack traditional tax bases.  Instead, they overwhelmingly  rely  for  funding  on  the  earnings  of  their  gaming  and  non‐gaming  business  enterprises.

To protect the health of their citizens and the communities around them, the tribes have now closed all 500+ tribal casinos and many of their non‐gaming businesses.  In the wake of these closures, tribes are facing massive layoffs, their workers’ losing insurance coverage, dipping into hard‐earned assets, and building up debt.   

The Harvard Project team estimates that, directly and through spillover effects into surrounding communities,  tribal  gaming  and  non‐gaming  enterprises  and  tribal  governments  together  support more than 1.1 million jobs and more than $49.5 billion in annual wages and benefits for American workers.  Moreover, more than 900,000 of these jobs are held by non‐Indians, with associated annual wages and benefits worth fully $40 billion.  Even state, local and federal tax revenues are facing severe hits from the impact of the current crisis affecting tribes – to the tune of $9.4 billion per year at the state and local level, and $15.9 billion federally. 

With  the  US  Treasury  Department  working  rapidly  to  disperse  response  funds  to  tribes,  the  Harvard Project team recommends guidelines for fund allocation.  The team stresses that 30+ years of Harvard Project research finds that self‐determination through self‐governance works.  Accordingly, tying tight federal strings around COVID‐19 federal response funds for tribes will be counterproductive.  Beyond  that,  it  is  clear  that  tribes  make  extremely  large  economic  contributions to their own reservations and the broader states and regions in which they are embedded.  The need for COVID‐19 response funds is correspondingly great.

The preliminary study findings are available at www.hpaied.org.  

Read the recommendations to Secretary Mnuchin


Megan Hill, Program Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Director, Honoring Nations


About the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development    

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development is based in the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Through applied research and service, the Harvard Project aims to understand andfoster the conditions under which sustained social and economic development is achieved among American Indian nations. The Harvard Project’s core activities include research, education, and the administration of the Honoring Nations  tribal governance awards program.