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Vice president’s husband touts relief package in New Mexico

March 18, 2021 GMT
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Doug Emhoff, left, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, talks about the need for more people to get vaccinated after watching medical assistant Lesaida Bird, right, deliver a shot to Kylea Garcia, center, at a vaccination clinic at Kewa Pueblo, New Mexico, on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
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Doug Emhoff, left, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, talks about the need for more people to get vaccinated after watching medical assistant Lesaida Bird, right, deliver a shot to Kylea Garcia, center, at a vaccination clinic at Kewa Pueblo, New Mexico, on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

KEWA PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) — Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, made his first solo trip as the nation’s second gentleman Wednesday, stopping at a vaccination clinic in an Indigenous community in northern New Mexico and later meeting with a group of working mothers as part of an effort to promote the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package.

Looking east toward snowcapped mountains, Emhoff told tribal leaders that it was an honor for Kewa Pueblo to be his first stop in the state as he and other top Democrats have spent the last few days traveling and talking about the funding that will be trickling down to families, businesses, tribes, cities and state governments over the coming months.

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He watched as Kylea Garcia got her vaccination at the clinic. He used it as an opportunity to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“Get the vaccine when it’s your turn,” he said, “because it will save your life and it will save the lives of others. It’s the right thing to do. It’s safe, it’s painless and it’s going to help us all get through this pandemic.”

Kewa Pueblo, formerly known as Santo Domingo Pueblo, has vaccinated more than 4,300 people, including the majority of its tribal members. At the heart of its efforts to combat COVID-19 has been the pueblo’s health clinic, which has been transitioning from testing and contact tracing to vaccinations. Just recently it opened up a drive-thru for second doses.

Tribal officials said they’re looking forward to the additional funding that will come as a result of the relief package, saying it will allow them to continue with vaccine efforts for the broader community and work on plans for establishing urgent care services at the clinic.

The relief package included $31 billion for tribes, marking what Democrats billed as the largest, single investment in Indian Country. Of that, $20 billion will go to tribal governments to combat COVID-19 and stabilize tribal safety-net programs.

Emhoff called the health center at Kewa Pueblo, located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, a model and acknowledged how hard the coronavirus has hit Native American communities. He said he was inspired by the work being done by the pueblos to bring their communities together at such a trying time.

At Sandia Pueblo just outside Albuquerque, tribal leaders said they have vaccinated 99.9% of their population. At Acoma Pueblo west of Albuquerque, Gov. Brian Vallo said the focus has been on vaccinating cultural leaders and those who are fluent in the tribe’s native language to ensure the survival of the pueblo’s culture and way of life.

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Vallo said many sacrifices have been made by the pueblos over the last year, including putting their own way of life on the sidelines.

“How we recover from that alone is going to be a challenge because we’ve lost so much,” he told Emhoff. “There have been lives lost, there has been knowledge lost.”

Tribal leaders also told Emhoff that the federal Indian Health Service has been chronically underfunded but they’re hopeful the new funding will help the agency to begin catching up.

The relief package includes more than $2.3 billion that will be used specifically by IHS for vaccines, testing, tracing and mitigation. About $600 million will go toward health facilities construction and sanitation programs, while $420 million will go to mental and behavior health programs and $140 million will be tapped for IT improvements and tele-health access.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also was on the tour. It marked her first public appearance in New Mexico in nearly a year. She said the federal funds are a symbol of respect and recognition of the tribes and mark a turning point.