October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs adds Business Meeting to consider Johnson-O’Malley Legislation

October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs adds Business Meeting to consider Johnson-O’Malley Legislation

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (Committee) has added a business meeting to its schedule this week to consider S. 943, the Johnson-O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act. The bill was introduced by Committee Member, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), in late April and is cosponsored by fellow Committee Members, Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Steve Daines (R-MT).

S. 943 requires the Department of the Interior (Interior) to provide an updated and continuing count of eligible Indian students for the Johnson-O’Malley Program (JOM Program) to ensure full participation of all qualified students. The JOM Program awards contracts to support the cultural and academic needs of Native American students. The bill states that Interior will consult with tribes, state and local education agencies that have not participated in the JOM Program to expand the number of eligible Native American students served. It also states that Interior will determine whether the JOM Program funding formula and eligibility requirements should be updated to ensure the maximum number of eligible Native American students.

The business meeting will take place tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 pm (EST) in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. Immediately following the markup consideration, the Committee will conduct its oversight hearing on Indian gaming. An updated list of witnesses for the oversight hearing has been posted to the Committee website and includes the following:

Panel 1:
• The Honorable Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri, Chairman, National Indian Gaming Commission, Washington, DC; and
• Mr. John Tahsuda III, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, Interior, Washington, DC.

Panel 2:
• The Honorable Keeny Escalanti, President, Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, Yuma, AZ;
• The Honorable Harold “Gus” Frank, Chairman, Forest County Potawatomi, Crandon, WI; and
• Mr. Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association.

A webcast of the hearing will be available immediately after the conclusion of the business meeting on the Committee website. For more information about the hearing, business meeting or Committee, please visit: https://www.indian.senate.gov.

October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on Indian Gaming

October 4th, 2017 – Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on Indian Gaming

February 25, 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s California v. Cabazon decision, and October of 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

In light of these facts, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has scheduled an oversight hearing on Indian gaming titled, “Doubling Down on Indian Gaming: Examining New Issues and Opportunities for Success in the Next 30 Years,” which will take place on Wednesday, October 4th at 2:30pm EST in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building. We understand that the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Indian Gaming Commission, and the National Indian Gaming Association have been invited to testify. Witnesses for live testimony are by invitation only, and a list will be posted on the Committee’s website once confirmed. For more information about the hearing or Committee, please visit: https://www.indian.senate.gov.

House and Senate Introduce Legislation Seeking to Reauthorize Long-Awaited Tribal Housing Program

House and Senate Introduce Legislation Seeking to Reauthorize Long-Awaited Tribal Housing Program

On Thursday, September 28th, 2017, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) was joined by a bipartisan group of his colleagues in the House including Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Don Young (R-AK), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), Denny Heck (D-WA) and Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chairs, Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) to introduce H.R. 3864, a bill which seeks to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), to increase access to safe and affordable housing for Native Americans across the nation. The bill has been referred to the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees jurisdiction in the House of Representatives. Cosponsors of H.R. 3864 provided the following statements in a release issued by the Office of Rep. Pearce.

“Prosperity and opportunity have eluded Native American families on tribal lands for too long. From increased access to quality housing, to lease-to-own programs aimed at providing rural tribes with the resources and flexibility to develop modern communities, NAHASDA assists tribes in meeting the unique housing challenges of each community with independence and self-choice. These reforms provide faster approval of projects, allowing tribes to focus on economic development and innovation rather than administrative processes. The bill also reduces inefficiencies within government spending, and ultimately aids some of the most vulnerable communities in our country with real opportunity to improve. I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate who have worked with me in a truly bipartisan, bicameral effort to reduce the burden on tribes and expand opportunity in Native American housing. By working across the aisle and with tribal leaders nationwide, we are helping to lay the foundation for real, concrete reforms needed in tribal communities,” stated Rep. Pearce.

“As a former welfare recipient, I know firsthand the critical role safe and affordable housing plays in breaking the cycle of poverty. With Native Americans representing some of the poorest and most remote communities in the United States, it is vital that Tribal governments have the autonomy to provide affordable housing to their constituents. The bipartisan reintroduction of NAHASDA – done in consultation with Tribal stakeholders – not only affirms this irrefutable concept, but also underscores the imperative to expand economic opportunities for Native Americans while recognizing and appreciating their Tribal sovereignty,” stated Rep. Moore.

“Reauthorizing NAHASDA is critical to fulfill our nation’s trust responsibility to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Safe, secure, and affordable housing is essential to the wellbeing of our country’s native people which leads to better health, education, and economic outcomes that strengthen native communities. In Hawaii, almost 30 percent of the homeless population is comprised of Native Hawaiians – a statistic that is far too high in the most prosperous country in the world. Reauthorizing NAHASDA provides needed financial support to native communities in Hawaii and across the country. We must continue to fight for the programs that will improve housing and wellness resources for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians communities throughout the country,” stated Rep. Gabbard.

H.R. 3864 is similar to H.R. 360, the NAHASDA reauthorization bill which passed the House in the 115th Congress, but stalled in the Senate. It would provide $650 million to fund the program through 2022 and includes the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, to help address homelessness among Native veterans by providing housing and rental assistance. The HUD-VASH Program would be jointly administered by HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also seeks to alleviate restrictions by allowing Tribes to utilize awards on all available housing units. In addition, the bill includes provisions that would streamline the federal approval and administrative processes, and consolidate the environmental review requirements for tribes. It would permit recipients to use funding from the Indian Health Service (IHS) for the construction of sanitation facilities for housing construction and renovation projects. It also includes language that would provide for funding of the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant and Loan Guarantees, which both directly support affordable housing on Hawaiian homelands.

A companion measure, S. 1895, was also offered by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Vice Chairman to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in the Senate. The Senate bill has three cosponsors including Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Al Franken (D-MN), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“NAHASDA has a long history of bipartisan support, and I am pleased we are making progress on bipartisan, bicameral legislation to reauthorize this critical law, which has been held up for too long. Safe, well-built housing is a fundamental necessity for building strong, healthy communities, and this legislation will help ensure Tribal communities have quality housing while also driving further investments into Indian Country. Given the housing crisis in all of Indian Country, we must do all we can to make sure NAHASDA is fully authorized for all Native communities. I look forward to working with Congressman Pearce and my House and Senate colleagues to see this bill passed and signed into law,” stated Vice Chairman Udall.

NAHASDA was first signed into law in 1996 to make housing assistance directly available to tribes through the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) program. The program works to increase and strengthen the relationship between Indian tribes and the federal government. The NAHASDA program was last reauthorized in 2008 for a five-year period that expired on September 30th, 2013.

Congress Passes 3-Month Extension of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI)

Congress Passes 3-Month Extension of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI)

During the afternoon of Thursday, September 28th, the House and Senate passed H.R. 3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017, which reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and provides some tax relief provisions for those areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, but also includes a 3-month extension for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI). The SDPI program had been set to expire after September 30th. H.R. 3823 provides the current level of funding for the “first quarter of the fiscal year 2018”.

Although tribes have been seeking a longer term reauthorization of the SDPI program, the likely legislative vehicle for that reauthorization, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) reauthorization, was not considered by Congress last week. While a 3-month extension is not ideal, it will ensure that there is no gap in funding provided for the program.