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Reauthorization of Critical Housing Bill Tops Indian Affairs Committee Hearing

Location: Washington, DC

Today Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) held a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs legislative hearing to address three bills before the Committee. The Committee heard testimony on the Reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA) (S. 1352) set to expire in September of this year. In addition the Committee heard testimony on two land bills. (S.235) the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2013; and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Non-Intercourse Act of 2013 (S. 920).

The Committee heard testimony from impacted federal agencies; the Indian Health Service within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Committee also received testimony from the National Congress American Indians, and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

During the hearing Chairwoman Cantwell commented that, "These three bills address issues at the core of tribal self-sufficiency and self-determination: land and infrastructure. The two land bills before us today will allow the impacted tribes to make the best use of their lands to improve the lives of their members and their surrounding communities." Regarding NAHASDA, Cantwell said, "This bipartisan bill sends a clear message: we need to act now to continue successful housing programs for Indian Country."

The Committee heard testimony on the proposed reauthorization of NAHASDA. The Honorable Sandra Henriquez, Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said, "HUD is very pleased that the reauthorization of NAHASDA is a priority for this Committee. HUD strongly supports the reauthorization of NAHASDA because the law is essential to building sustainable tribal communities." Ms. Henriquez added that, "The Indian Housing Block Grant, the largest program under NAHASDA, has infused more than $9.9 billion into Indian housing and community development since its inception 16 years ago."

The National Congress of American Indians was represented by President Jefferson Keel, who spoke in support of the Act. "NAHASDA reauthorization has broad support throughout Indian Country," said Keel. "This is one of our top priorities. Additionally we strongly support all efforts to ensure there are no homeless veterans on our reservations. The words "homeless' and "veteran' do not belong in the same sentence."

Congress first passed NAHASDA in 1996 and the Act was reauthorized in 2002 and 2008. The current authorization is set to expire in September of this year. The Act separated Indian Housing programs from public housing programs and was intended to further tribal self-governance, and streamline and simplify the process of providing housing assistance to Tribes and Tribal members.

Land Transfer Bills

Addressing (S.235) the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act, Mr. Andy Teuber, Chairman of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) said, "ANTHC is a statewide tribal health organization that serves all 229 federally-recognized tribes and over 143,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians in Alaska. One of our main challenges is meeting the increased demand for health services of an ever-increasing population of Alaska Natives. The population we serve has increased by over 34 percent since ANTHC first opened, increasing from about 105,000 in 1997 to over 143,000 today."

Mr. Robert McSwain, Deputy Director, Management Operations, Indian Health Service within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services commented on the need for the Alaska land transfer. "The IHS supports this bill because it views the proposed transfer as furthering the special partnership that exists with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal governments, and moreover, is in keeping with the Presidential Memorandum on Administrative Flexibility as it pertains to tribal governments. "

The U.S. Department of the Interior was represented by Ms. Sarah Harris, Chief-of-Staff to Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs. Ms. Harris commented on the Bureau's support of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Non-Intercourse Act. The Act would provide the Band with authority under federal law to convey title to land that the Band holds in fee simple.

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