Mar 01 2018
Bill Would Boost Rural Development, Housing, and Nutrition Programs in Indian Country
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today introduced legislation to improve affordable nutrition, housing, and rural development assistance for Native American communities.
As she continues to advocate for North Dakota farmers and ranchers in the next Farm Bill, Heitkamp introduced The Tribal Food and Housing Security Act to make sure the priorities of Indian Country are included in the final bill. This bill builds on other legislation Heitkamp has introduced and is pushing to include in the Farm Bill, including a bipartisan bill to strengthen and improve the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Level program, and a bipartisan effort to help farmers, ranchers, and honey bee producers cope with disasters like drought.
“Indian Country faces a unique set of challenges to access rural economic development, housing, and nutrition programs – all issues that can be addressed in the Farm Bill,” Heitkamp said. “For too long, Native communities haven’t been given the tools they need to get ahead, which hurts all of our rural communities. As we negotiate a new Farm Bill, I want to make sure Indian Country has a seat at the table, which is why I’m introducing this legislation to level the playing field for Indian tribes.”
Mike Faith, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said, “Of the many challenges facing Indian Country today, health and economic development are two of the most pressing. The Farm Bill is an opportunity to make progress for Native American communities like Standing Rock, and Senator Heitkamp’s efforts to improve nutrition, housing, and economic development programs are a great step forward. We will continue to work with Senator Heitkamp to make sure Native communities are prioritized in the final bill.”
“Access to healthy, affordable food is a challenge for Spirit Lake and other tribes, especially in difficult times when budgets are strained,” said Mary Greene Trottier, Director of Spirit Lake Nation’s Food Distribution Program. “Senator Heitkamp’s bill would provide long-term assurance for the Spirit Lake Nation’s ability to provide nutrition assistance to low-income households and children who are at risk of going hungry. We greatly appreciate Senator Heitkamp's efforts to help make sure that the needs Native communities are represented in the next Farm Bill.”
“The next Farm Bill will determine policies affecting rural communities for years to come. We must use this opportunity to help support Native American communities, which for too long have been pushed to the margins in Farm Bill discussions,” said Janie Simms Hipp (Chickasaw), Director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at University of Arkansas School of Law, a partner in the Native Farm Bill Coalition. “Senator Heitkamp’s outreach to the Native Farm Bill Coalition and her longstanding work on behalf of Indian Country will improve the Farm Bill and the way it addresses agricultural policies, food production, natural resource conservation, rural development, and affordable housing.”
The Native Farm Bill Coalition, which has endorsed Senator Heitkamp’s legislation, is a new effort to give Native Americans a strong, united voice to advance a common Farm Bill agenda benefiting Indian Country.
Additional statements of support are available here and below.
Specifically, Heitkamp’s bill would:
- Establish a permanent Rural Development Tribal Technical Assistance Office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide technical assistance across all areas of rural development funding, which supports rural business and community development, housing, rural infrastructure like electric and telecommunications services, and rural hospitals and health care.
- Eliminate a requirement that tribes match administrative costs to run the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) programs, which many tribes use to provide healthy, affordable food options to low-income individuals and families. In Fiscal Year 2016, there were 5,661 participants receiving nutrition assistance from the FDPIR on North Dakota tribal lands. Eliminating the match requirement gives certainty to tribes that they’ll be able to afford nutrition assistance for those in need, without the need to apply for a waiver or the risk of a waiver not getting approved.
- Reform home loan programs to level the playing field for Native Americans struggling to gain access to credit to afford a home. For a variety of factors, loan programs are currently underutilized by Native Americans. For example, USDA’s Single Family Housing Direct Home Loans program, which assists low- and very-low-income applicants, made loans to only 23 American Indians or Alaska Natives on tribal land out of 7,187 loans made nationally under the program in FY 2017.
A member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Heitkamp helped write, negotiate, and pass the 2014 Farm Bill and has worked to implement and protect the Farm Bill for producers across North Dakota. She is looking ahead to making sure the 2018 Farm Bill works for North Dakota.
In August, Heitkamp conducted a two-day drought and farm bill tour of western North Dakota to hear more about how the drought has impacted farmers, ranchers, and businesses in western North Dakota and how she can work to strengthen the 2018 Farm Bill to protect farmers and ranchers, particularly during trying times.
In October, she introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen and improve the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Level program (ARC-CO), which helps farmers when commodity prices fall to damaging levels.
Heitkamp has long fought to promote infrastructure improvements like expansion of high-speed internet on tribal lands. Heitkamp brought FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to North Dakota in 2016 to meet face-to-face with tribal leaders to underscore the urgency for significant improvements to high-speed internet and cellular service access on Indian reservations across the state. In December, she called on the FCC Chairman to explain recent changes to the federal Lifeline program that would disproportionately impact low-income Native Americans and their access to subsidized cell phone service.
Heitkamp has also worked to address North Dakota’s housing crisis in Indian Country and provide safe, affordable housing to families. As North Dakota’s Attorney General, Heitkamp served on the board of directors of the state’s Housing Finance Agency and worked to promote better housing solutions on tribal lands. Since joining the Senate, Heitkamp has been steadfast in her work to improve housing conditions for families across Indian Country working to sustain and improve tribal housing, engaging the Administration on unsafe conditions in Indian Country, and securing investments in housing improvements. Heitkamp pushed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to release a report that documented the severe need for safe, affordable housing and a lack of housing opportunity in Indian Country—particularly in North Dakota and the Great Plains.
Additional statements of support for Heitkamp’s Tribal Food and Housing Security Act:
“Housing, access to affordable and nutritious food, and funding for rural development infrastructure are critical issues for the MHA Nation and our rural community. Indian tribes are often the economic engine for rural areas. Senator Heitkamp’s bill would help to ensure that Indian tribes are included in the next Farm Bill and we appreciate her recognition of our role in rural economies.”
- Mark Fox, Chairman, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation
"The 502 direct loan is a great mortgage product for our Native families. The problem is that the Rural Development staff is spread too thin to get a lot of these deals done on trust land. What Senator Heitkamp is proposing would set up a process for Native community development financial institutions to step in as intermediary lenders. It's a perfect fit - Native CDFIs have a pipeline of qualified borrowers and Rural Development has the mortgage capital. We appreciate Heidi's leadership in bringing these pieces together."
- James "JC" Crawford, Executive Director of the Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority
“The Tribal Food and Housing Security Act will bring much needed stability to tribal food and housing programs. Not only will this important piece of legislation end the cumbersome matching requirement for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, it will bring much more tribal access to USDA Rural Development through housing and technical assistance. NCAI is pleased to see these long overdue fixes included in this bill. NCAI encourages both House and Senate Agriculture Committees to include Senator Heitkamp’ s legislation in the final Farm Bill.”
- Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director, National Congress of American Indians