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Tribal Leaders Express Concerns About USDA Reconnect Funding

"Please reconsider these loan packages and turn these over to grant recipient opportunities." California Yurok Tribe council member

April 20, 2021 -- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) consulted with Tribal Leaders on the ReConnect program, which would help expand broadband internet access to tribal communities. This $635 Million initiative targets populations of 20,000 or less and would provide loans, grants, and grant/loan hybrid opportunities to rural areas in need.

Several concerns expressed during the consultation included the eligibility criteria on just who exactly can apply for ReConnect funding and whether Tribes applying for loans may will be able to pay back. Multiple tribal leaders and employees suggested putting for-profit entities either in a separate applicant category or requiring them to be granted tribal government consent before receiving funding.

The current criteria allow limited liability companies and for-profit corporations to apply for ReConnect funds. As noted by the chairperson Joseph Rupnick of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation of Kansas, tribes are placed in a situation to be outbid by giant corporations who know little of the tribal community landscape. "Help tribes build out their fiber networks so they can own and operate their expansions of infrastructures," stated Rupnick.

With funds strained from Covid-19, tribal leaders agree that Reconnect funding is helpful. However, restrictions and funding rollout should consider the best interests of the tribes at heart.


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