New report details impact of COVID-19 on Native organizations

A new report from the Urban Indian Health Institute says adequate funding, housing supports, and vaccine hesitancy continue to be key challenges for Native organizations and the individuals they serve.

The report, which was funded by the Washington State Department of Commerce through Coronavirus Relief Funds, details the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native direct-service organizations in Washington State and identifies future needs during and after the pandemic.

Five direct-service organizations, including Chief Seattle Club, United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, Seattle Indian Health Board, NATIVE Project, and American Indian Community Center, contributed to the report through surveys and interviews.

 

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Recent data from the CDC finds that Native people are 3.5 times more likely to get COVID-19 and 1.8 times more likely to die from the virus, than non-Hispanic white individuals. According to the report, this data is incomplete as race and ethnicity data is missing from 45-55% of Washington’s COVID case reports.

“This indicates that the incidence rate…is likely much higher than currently represented, making it impossible for the state and counties to make data driven decisions on prioritization of the allocation of resources,” reads the report.

Survey-takers indicated there is significant COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in their communities. All organizations reported that community members have voiced concerns about the safety of the vaccine and have expressed distrust in public officials and pharmaceutical companies to provide reliable information about the vaccine’s safety.

To address this hesitancy, the report recommends funding for urban Indian organizations to contribute to the creation and dissemination of public health information related to the vaccine.

Housing, and the extension of the eviction moratorium, was another critical issue identified in the report. Many of the organizations surveyed estimate it could cost between $25-74 million to maintain housing for those affected by the moratorium ending.

“If the state eviction moratorium ends, it will be a major setback,” said Colleen Echohawk, executive director of Chief Seattle Club, in a statement. “We are already putting a tremendous amount of resources toward case management to keep our members housed. Our organizations need flexible funding and the moratorium extended throughout the pandemic.”

In addition to continuing the eviction moratorium, the organizations agreed that Washington State should offer rental assistance, freeze mortgage payments, offer cash assistance, and support shelters that serve Native community members.

The report also describes some of the innovation that has emerged related to the pandemic. In addition to finding ways to meet high demands for existing services, organizations were able to add new services including COVID-testing and remote learning supports.

“Our organizations have been leaders throughout the pandemic, being some of the first to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccines,” said Toni Lodge, CEO of NATIVE Project. “But it’s important to remember that we still continue to provide other essential services for our people, and we will need to continue to invest in telemedicine as the pandemic continues.”

To continue this work, the organizations request flexible and sustained funding to addressing evolving needs in their communities.

Funding needs mentioned by the Native direct-service organizations include investments in jobs and skills training, hazard pay for essential workers, and flexible funds to pay staff related to the vaccine rollout.

As the needs related to COVID-19 continue to change week to week, the organizations stressed the importance of being able to remain agile and adapt to meet community needs. Recommendations here include ensuring dedicated PPE, deceasing administrative burden related to COVID-specific funding, evaluating sustainable funding options, and including urban Native direct-service organizations in decision-making at the state and local level.