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Reps. Gallego and Cole, Sen. Warren Reintroduce Bicameral Bill to Guarantee Tribal Health Authorities Access to the Strategic National Stockpile

January 4, 2022
Press Release

Washington, D.C. —Today, Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Tom Cole (R-OK) and United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) reintroduced the Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act, legislation originally introduced in 2020 that would guarantee that the Indian Health Service (IHS), tribal health authorities, and urban Indian organizations have access to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), a federal repository of drugs and medical supplies that can be tapped if a public health emergency could exhaust local supplies.

Currently, IHS and tribal health authorities' access to the SNS is limited and is not guaranteed in the SNS statute. In contrast, states' and large municipalities' public health authorities have ready, direct access to the SNS. 

“With the omicron variant surging, it is more important than ever that Indian Country has the resources and equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and treat those who are sick. That is why I’m proud to introduce the Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act to support IHS and all of Indian Country by ensuring they have direct access to these resources in the Strategic National Stockpile. This bill is a key part of upholding our trust responsibility and will bolster Tribal sovereignty as Tribes navigate a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Native people,” said Congressman Gallego, former Chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. 

“When the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services taps into our Strategic National Stockpile and distributes out to prevent shortages in communities across the nation, it is simply commonsense to include Native communities,” said Congressman Cole, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “As a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important legislation that ensures tribal nations and their health organizations are able to request and receive these vital medical supplies and medications in times of national health emergencies.”

“As COVID-19 continues to devastate communities, it is critical that Indian Country has access to crucial medical supplies and equipment. That means ensuring IHS, tribal health authorities, and urban Indian organizations have access to the national stockpile of medical supplies. Our bill does exactly that, so IHS, tribal nations, and Native communities are empowered to confront public health crises head-on,” Senator Warren said

The Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act is cosponsored by Representative Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).

The Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act is supported by the National Indian Health Board, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, Seattle Indian Health Board, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has placed immense pressures on the chronically underfunded and under-resourced Indian health system. Direct access to the Strategic National Stockpile will bring much-needed relief and critical medical and pharmaceutical supplies into IHS, Tribal and urban Indian health facilities to prepare and respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies." – National Indian Health Board

“With COVID-19 pandemic continuing to have substantial impacts in tribal communities, it is of the utmost importance for American Indians and Alaska Natives to have access to the critical medical resources necessary to protect our people. We thank Senator Warren, Representative Gallego, and Representative Cole for working to uphold the federal trust responsibility to Tribal Nations and ensure Indian Country can be better protected for the current, and for all future health emergencies.” – National Congress of American Indians

“It remains unconscionable that, unlike other units of government, Tribal Nations do not have guaranteed access to the Strategic National Stockpile. As COVID-19 ravaged our communities, we were forced to source PPE and other limited supplies through IHS’ National Supply Service Center or through the private market. Even now, our member Tribal Nations continue to report difficulties with access to PPE and reliable testing supplies. The Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act would honor Tribal sovereignty and the trust obligation by ensuring that Tribal Nations have access to the same critical drugs, vaccines, medical devices, and other supplies as other governments. USET SPF calls upon Congress to immediately take up and pass this bill, so that Indian Country has parity in fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics.” – Chief Kirk Francis, President, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF)

"We are encouraged by the leadership of Senator Warren, Representative Gallego, and Representative Cole to increase health care access for American Indians and Alaska Natives through the Strategic National Stockpile. As the coronavirus continues to have greater impacts, Congress must do everything possible to uphold its trust responsibility to Indian Country by providing appropriate resources. The stockpile is designed for those who need it most in times of emergency and Indian Country should not be left behind." – Francys Crevier (Algonquin), Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Urban Indian Health

“Senator Warren, Representative Gallego, and Representative Cole’s leadership and legislation not only addresses the COVID-19 needs in Indian Country, but upholds the Federal Trust Responsibility by providing direct access to tribes and urban Indian organizations. Tribes and urban Indian organizations like the Seattle Indian Health Board have been leaders in the COVID-19 response, which is evident by the high rates of vaccinations in our communities. Access to the Strategic National Stockpile will mitigate future impacts and allow us to continue to battle this virus for our relatives.” Esther Lucero (Díne), President & CEO, Seattle Indian Health Board

"As a Quaker organization who works to hold the United States to its trust and treaty obligations with Native nations, we thank Senators Warren, Representative Gallego, and Representative Cole for ensuring that American Indians and Alaska Natives are not forgotten during this global pandemic. The chronic underfunding of tribal and urban Indian health organizations has led Indian Country to be ill-prepared for a health crisis of this scale. Access to the Strategic National Stockpile will provide supplies and medicines critical to addressing the COVID-19 outbreak. Congress has a trust obligation to provide health facilities serving American Indians and Alaska Natives with the resources needed to protect the well-being of Native people and communities." – Portia Skenandore-Wheelock, Congressional Advocate on Native American Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation

For a full text of the bill, click here. A one-page summary of this legislation can also be found here.

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Rep. Ruben Gallego is a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.