Heitkamp introduces legislation to include Native Americans in farm bill | TheFencePost.com

Heitkamp introduces legislation to include Native Americans in farm bill

-The Hagstrom Report

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced legislation to improve assistance for Native American communities.

"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."

Heitkamp said her bill would:

» Establish a permanent Rural Development Tribal Technical Assistance Office at the Agriculture Department 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.

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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 underutilized by Native Americans," Heitkamp said. "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."

The Native Farm Bill Coalition, a group that has been advocating for inclusion of Native Americans in the farm bill for some time, has endorsed Heitkamp's legislation.

In her news release, Heitkamp also included endorsements from several Native American leaders.

Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said health and economic development are two of the most pressing issues facing Indian Country and that Heitkamp's efforts to improve nutrition, housing, and economic development programs "are a great step forward."

Mary Greene Trottier, director of Spirit Lake Nation's food distribution program, said 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."

"The next farm bill will determine policies affecting rural communities for years to come," said Janie Simms Hipp, a Chickasaw and former USDA official who is director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at University of Arkansas School of Law, a partner in the Native Farm Bill Coalition.

"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," she said.

"Sen. 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."