Category Archives: policy

Medicare and Medicaid Funding in Jeopardy

USET and other organization are asking for help lobbying for tribal consultation on the changes to Medicare and Medicaid funding to Indian country.  The rules have changed that leave it to State’s to set work requirements for eligibility for Medicaid funding through the 1115 waiver process.  This could severely impact Indian Health service funding.  Therefore AI/AN Medicaid recipients must be made exempt from these barriers to accessing the health care to which they are entitled, and CMS has a duty to ensure that this occurs as a part of the waiver process. Medicaid currently represents 67% of 3rd party revenue at IHS, and 13% of overall IHS spending.   Tribal organization are advocating that any proposed changes to the administration of Medicaid must be preceded by comprehensive consultation with Tribal Nations. Currently, the 1115 waiver process requires that states engaged in Tribal Consultation prior to submission of 1115 Demonstrations to CMS. CMS must ensure Tribal consultation with Tribal Nations occurs at both the state and federal levels before state waiver applications can proceed.

See USET Letter

 

Advertisements

Fake News: It happens in Indian Country Too!

No doubt you have heard the news about the CEO and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg testifying on Capitol Hill, and explaining why he didn’t protect his Facebook subscribers from privacy breaches and those that promote false and fake news.  Well Indian Country is not exempt.  See Washington Post Article:

Well fake news happens about Indian Country too.  An article has been circulating on Facebook in recent weeks you may have seen published on May 5, with the headline, “In Victory for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Court Finds That Approval of Dakota Access Pipeline Violated the Law”.  That article was cut and pasted from an article a year ago.  A Vietnamese site claiming to be about Native American affairs has recycled the story to gin up clicks and advertising revenue. For some reason news about the Standing Rock reservation and Native American affairs in general have become a favorite niche of foreign-run Facebook pages and websites. If you see a news report about these topics pop up in your newsfeed, always check if you are looking at an original source before liking, sharing or commenting: it could be you are looking at old news being repackaged and fed back into your news stream by some guy in Macedonia or Kosovo wanting to make a few quick bucks.

Congress springs into action with an omnibus bill, and concerns rise about the 2019 appropriations

 

At the relief of Indian County Congress passes an Omnibus bill in March, holding the course and adding a little money to the Indian Affairs budget.  It was an uncertain, beginning to the year, that saw continuing resolutions, potential government shutdowns, a deal to raise budget caps, and a last-minute veto threat from the President.  At the end the legislation provides $1.3 trillion in omnibus appropriations for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

 

Congressional appropriators rejected the deep cuts proposed in the President’s FY 2018 Budget Request, including those for federal Indian programs. Some of these provisions include:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): BIA is funded at a total of $3.01 billion, an increase of $203.8 million or 7.1%.
  • Indian Health Service (IHS): IHS is funded at a total of $5.5 billion, an increase of $497.9 million or 10%.
  • Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Funding: The bill contains a 3% set aside for Tribal Nations within the VOCA fund, or $133 million for the delivery of victim services in Indian Country.
  • Opioid Epidemic: From a total of $1 billion in new grant funding to address the opioid crisis directed at state and Tribal governments, $50 million is set aside for Tribal Nations. In addition, $5 million is set aside for Tribal Nations to provide medication-assisted treatment. Finally, $7.5 million is provided for the BIA’s  Law Enforcement Opioid initiative.

Significant increases:

  • Infrastructure: spending would increase for BIA and IHS construction, BIA road maintenance, and a $100 million competitive grant program is added under Native American Housing Block Grants (NAHBG) in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.
  • Road Maintenance: will receive a 14 percent increase to $34.6 million.
  • Restoration of the Tiwahe initiative: at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
  • Violence Against Women Act: $2 million to implement both training and specific Tribal court needs, and $13 million to address the needs of Tribes affected by Public Law 83- 280.
  • BIA Construction: would increase by $162 million to $354.1 million, an 84 percent increase.
  • Opioid initiative:5 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement.

See Link: Budget Report

An interesting strategy has been proposed this last week to handle 2019 appropriations bills.  Nearly, 16 Republican senators announced a willingness to work through August recess to complete spending bills and confirm more of President Donald Trump’s nominees. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who has led the effort, hinted that a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would be forthcoming. “The Senate should immediately begin work on one or several consolidated appropriations bills, so they can be openly debated and amended accordingly,” the senators wrote. “Our defense priorities are bipartisan, and they should come first.”

That letter signals a willingness by the conservatives to bundle spending bills together, perhaps using the “minibus” strategy in which several regular appropriations measures get combined on the floor. Normally, senators would not want the chamber in session well into August during an election year, with lawmakers eager to be home and meeting with constituents and voters.  The Republicans seem to want to avoid a last minute continuing resolution to keep the government funded past the end of September and they want to confirm a large number of Trump nominations as August approaches. Some of the 77 confirmations that took place by unanimous consent or voice votes as the August recess got underway in 2017 might have happened without a cancellation threat since that’s been the normal practice of the Senate.

These 16 senators, however, believe the threats affected the behavior of Senate Democrats. “Our diligence was rewarded with reason, and that can happen again,” the senators wrote.

See Article

Meanwhile dozens of Indian Country leaders were on Capitol Hill last week to present their budget priorities to key members of Congress before the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior. The testimony from tribes and Indian organization, representing every region of the nation, had a consistent message – Indian Country needs additional funding as part of the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities. The panel’s Republican and Democratic leaders, for the large part, have embraced that goal.
After hearing from the tribal witnesses, the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior will spend the next month or so drafting the Interior appropriations bill. The package is typically released sometime in June, with lawmakers aiming to get it passed before October 1, the start of fiscal year 2019.

DC Circuit Court affirms land into trust for Buena Vista Rancheria in Amador County v. Dept of Interior

Here is the unpublished opinion in Amador County v. Dept. of Interior: CADC Unpublished Opinion Here are the briefs.

via D.C. Circuit Affirms Interior’s Indian Lands Determination on Buena Vista Rancheria Trust Parcels — Turtle Talk

US House Committee on Natural Resources Press Release: Tribal leaders and their advocates are embracing a once-controversial Indian land bill.


WASHINGTON, D.C., October 25, 2017
 –

Today, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held a legislative hearing on H.R. 215, the “American Indian Empowerment Act of 2017.” Introduced by Chairman Emeritus Don Young (R-AK), the bill authorizes federally recognized tribes to lease and regulate their own lands and eliminate federal government restrictions that interfere with economic development.

“Today’s hearing is a step in the right direction for getting the federal government out of the way of America’s tribes,” Rep. Young stated. “This legislation gives tribes a critical tool to leverage when determining their futures and planning for responsible resource and infrastructure development of their lands. The ‘mother may I approach’ of the federal government – which has created endless roadblocks and costly bureaucratic hurdles – has often stood in the way of uplifting and empowering our tribes. It must change, which is why I’m committed to exploring new ideas and new legislation that gives tribes the freedom and flexibility they deserve on their lands.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior (DOI) John Tahsuda testified that Indian tribes in government-to-government meetings have expressed the need “to grant tribes more autonomy and independence over their resources.”

The Department has “heard interest and requests for the Department [of the Interior] to delegate more authority to tribes, allowing them to make their own decisions on their own lands,” Tahsuda stated. [W]e are interested in accessing additional tools in our toolbox to better empower Indian country.”

A favorite saying at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) goes, “Nothing says sovereignty like asking for the Secretary’s permission!” according to ILTF President Cris Stainbrook.

[T]he paternalistic relationship with the federal government is continued and has continued for the past 130 years,” Stainbrook said.[V]irtually every land activity by Native nations that now requires the lengthy, time consuming Secretarial approval could be shortened by months, if not years. The many commercial development projects which dissolved because of the length of time in gaining approvals could now get down much more expeditiously.

Vice President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez stressed the need for Indian land to be treated as “Tribal Nation land” rather than federal land, as his tribe has some of the highest rates for both lack of electricity and access to running water. These issues can’t be addressed without additional approval from DOI and other regulatory permits.

[O]ur land should be treated as ours and we should be allowed to manage and develop with minimal interference from other governments, whether they be federal, state or local,” Nez stated. “If we embrace this important idea, it can help the Navajo Nation in areas such as housing, utility infrastructure buildout, or economic development by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative bureaucratic reviews.”

Economic development is an important goal for tribes, and granting them the ability to capitalize on their own resources without federal impediments will go a long way toward improving socioeconomic conditions for a number of tribal nations,” Executive Vice President of Compass Lexecon and Research Affiliate at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Eric Henson added. 

[T]he ‘American Indian Empowerment Act’ is an opportunity to expand tribal self-governance by regaining complete control over our tribal land use,” Senior Council Member of the Lummi Nation Henry Cagey said. “That, in my view, is what tribal sovereignty is all about.”

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Indianz.com article on hearing

Congress approves yet another short-term extension for Indian diabetes program

Posted: Monday, October 9, 2017  Indianz.com  

Congress has renewed the Special Diabetes Program for Indians but only for three months, the shortest extension on record.The program, which has contributed to a reduction in diabetes in Indian Country, was due to expire on September 30. It was saved, albeit on a very temporary basis, by a provision in H.R.3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law barely a day before the deadline.The provision, found in Section 301 of the measure, ensures that the IHS can distribute grants to tribes, Alaska Natives and urban Indians for the next three months. The program was funded with $37.5 million, which represents the usual level of funding.But while the new law averts a temporary crisis, the National Indian Health Board pointed out that it expires on December 31. The organization has been lobbying for longer extensions in order to maintain Indian Country’s successes in preventing and treating diabetes.”SDPI supports treatment and prevention in American Indian and Alaska Native communities impacted by type 2 diabetes at a rate of 15.1 percent, prevalence higher than any other minority population in the United States,” an October 2 letter to key members of Congress stated. “SDPI has resulted in a 54 percent reduction in kidney failure rates among Native American populations between 1996 and 2013.”American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) adults suffer from the highest rates of diabetes in the United States. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14.9 percent of Native men over the age of 18 have been diagnosed with diabetes, the highest among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. And 15.3 percent of Native women suffer from the condition, again the highest rate in the nation.Grants from the SDPI have kept the rates from growing even higher, according to tribal advocates and key lawmakers. Yet Congress has been reluctant to authorize long-term extensions or provide more funding for the programAs a result, tribes have had to settle for two-year and one-year extensions, instead of the five-year extensions that were common in the past. The three-month extension is the shortest so far.There are efforts to attach SDPI to the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, an otherwise popular programthat expired at the end of September. A two-year extension has been included in H.R.3922, the Community Health And Medical Professionals Improve Our Nation Act, or the CHAMPION Act.H.R.3922 was approved by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce at a markup on October 4. It authorizes $150 million in grants for each of the two years, or the same level of funding in the current program.That same day, the Senate Finance Committee held a markup and approved S.1827, the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act (KIDS Act), to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Plan. The bill does not include SDPI at this point.Separately, Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, has introduced H.R.2545 to renew SDPI for five years. Her bill would also increase funding levels in the coming years.A newly-introduced bill, H.R.3917, reauthorizes the program for just two years. It maintains the $150 million funding level and takes into account the three-month extension that was just signed into lawwith H.R.3823.

Washington Update: Budget, Health Care, and Tribal Energy

 
WASHINGTON LEGISLATIVE UPDATE:  
Budget – Health Care – Special Diabetes Program  and Tribal Energy 

 

On Oct. 5, the House passed a bill for the 2018 budget that lays out the foundation to take advantage of Senate rules for recent tax reform proposals. The Senate allows tax and spending measures to pass with a simple majority. The House budget plan accommodates $203 billion in future spending cuts meant to offset the tax reform’s projected $1.5 trillion increase to the deficit. Meanwhile, budget legislation has gone through committee in the Senate, poised for a floor vote later this month. This bill directly allows a $1.5 trillion deficit increase to be written into tax legislation. Republicans believe that the deficit increase will be offset by economic growth but this conclusion has yet to be thoroughly researched.
The House’s budget will allow $203 billion in spending cuts. These cuts have yet to be finalized and negotiations will likely be stalled by discussion on the pending tax bill. GOP leaders have made a point of prioritizing tax reform and writing the budget to reflect this emphasis. Senate Republicans are skeptical of tax reform proposals like repealing the state and local tax deduction, but are willing to support the budget to move along tax negotiations. The Senate has asked the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find $1 billion in deficit savings. These savings would likely come from the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel extraction. The two budget proposals expect to balance by 2027, mostly through cuts to federal entitlement in future legislation.
The Senate pulled its most recent healthcare reform effort, the Graham-Cassidy proposal, from the voting schedule, due to a lack of support within the party. The legislation would have removed Medicaid expansion, cost-sharing protections, and premium subsidies. The bill also would have transferred federal trust responsibility over Medicaid to the states. On Sept. 29, President Trump signed into law FAA appropriations that included $37.5 million in funding for the Special Diabetes Program through the first quarter of FY2018. Rep. Mullin (R-OK) has introduced a bill, H.R.3917, which will supplement this funding with $112.5 million for the remainder of FY2018 and $150 million for FY2019.
The House Committee on Natural Resources is waiting to vote on H.R. 210, the Native American Energy Act. The Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments, S.245 (Hoeven R-ND), has passed through committee and has been waiting for a floor vote since May. The two measures work to support tribal energy independence. The House initiative would streamline the land asset appraisal process, support biomass production, and add tribal consent restrictions for Interior rules on energy production. The Senate bill extends to tribes the state and municipality hydroelectric license preference and DOE energy development loans. DOE would allow inter-tribal organizations to qualify for grants and Interior would provide technical assistance with energy resource development. Additionally, Interior would defer to tribal resource agreements and certified tribal energy development organizations for energy-related leases, rights-of-way, and business agreements. See Washington Post Article for further developments

Washington Update: Tax Reform

WHITE HOUSE/GOP ANNOUNCE NEW TAX REFORM PLAN:  STILL UNCERTAIN ON THE MESSAGE AND WHAT IT WILL COSTS.
 
Republicans and the White House announced their tax reform proposal on Sept 27. The reform would create three tax brackets and lower or remove several other taxes, such as corporate income, small business, and estate taxes. A nearly doubled standard deduction would replace most itemized deductions. Trump’s announcement of the Republican-led reform effort was accompanied by House Ways and Means ranking member Sen. Neal’s (D-MA) comments that a bipartisan effort was necessary and that Democrats needed to support the middle class in light of the reform plan’s policies and the President’s promise that the rich will not benefit.
On Sept. 26, President Trump negotiated at the last minute with Democratic leaders to leave the top tax bracket rate negotiable. Despite this cooperation, Democratic leaders were skeptical that their other demands would be met. These conditions included improved child care assistance, which was integrated in the reform plan through an increased Child Tax Credit.
The day after the announcement, Democratic Senators Warren (D-MA) and Schumer (D-NY) criticized the plan as favoring the wealthy and similar to past policies based on trickle down economics. These criticisms drew the President’s ire and prompted him to dismiss the leadership’s goals as unrealistic.  This position is in line with a statement last month signed by congressional Democrats which clearly highlighted the policy stance Democrats would advocate on tax reform.
Paul Ryan (R-WI), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Finance chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and House Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) have joined Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin of the White House to write the bill. Democratic lawmakers are eager to contribute to the reform proposal but have received mixed reactions to their involvement. While some Republicans have expressed a desire to initiate bipartisan collaboration now, leadership has been cold.
Congressional Republicans, including Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), have expressed concern over some of the reforms, such as removing state and local tax deductions and lowering the corporate interest deduction. Tensions over “pay-for” provisions in the proposal will also prove to be legislative hurdles. Sen. Corker (R-TN) expressed that any significant increase to the deficit would also hurt the measure. As of Oct. 5, the House passed a budget resolution that would aid the reform effort by providing Senate Republicans with a chance to pass reform with a simple majority through reconciliation.
For tribal interests, the plan has kept the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and tax-exempt debt; both are initiatives that encourage tribal economic development. The reform initiative also includes a five-year period allowing write-offs for depreciable assets. There is opportunity for a tribal pension allowance amid the open possibility of repealing the New Market Tax Credit.
 

Mark Trahant: Indian Country goes ignored as Republicans focus on tax reform: Oct 3, 2017

Indians don’t pay taxes?

Or why the coming tax debate matters so damn much
By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports
TrahantReports.ComThe Senate has given up on destroying Medicaid and much of the health care system and is now focused on restructuring the federal tax system (and destroying entitlement programs in the process).Here is what Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation: “We’re going to double that standard deduction. We’re going to make it so he can fill out his taxes on a postcard. We’re going to lower his taxes. That’s really important. So he has more tax-home pay. But there’s another component to this is, look at this machine shop, this business pays about a 40 percent tax rate but it competes with companies all around the world who pay an average 22 and a half percent on their taxes.”The GOP Framework begins with this set of principles: “President Trump has laid out four principles for tax reform: First, make the tax code simple, fair and easy to understand. Second, give American workers a pay raise by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned paychecks. Third, make America the jobs magnet of the world by leveling the playing field for American businesses and workers. Finally, bring back trillions of dollars that are currently kept off-shore to reinvest in the American economy.”So how does Indian Country fit into that framework? Indians don’t pay taxes, remember? Actually if you Google that phrase it returns 2.17 million hits. It’s still a myth that will not fade away. But the larger issue of tax reform and its impact on Indian Country is still a complicated question, one that starts with the definition of “taxes.”Most so-called middle-income wage earners pay income taxes. Roughly one-third of all wage earners do not pay income taxes — and that would include a lot of tribal citizens, especially those living in their tribal nations. There are nearly 150 million tax returns filed every year and 36 million end up paying no tax at all. Another 16 million had taxable income but didn’t pay anything because of tax credits, deductions and other adjustments.And, many of Indian Country’s working class especially benefit from one such credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit. This is a hugely successful policy that returns cash money to some 7 million family incomes; a paid bonus of sorts for working.“Numerous studies show that working-family tax credits boost work effort,” according to The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “The EITC expansions of the 1990s contributed as much to the subsequent increases in work among single mothers and female heads of households as the welfare changes of that period, extensive research has found. Women who benefited from those EITC expansions also experienced higher wage growth in subsequent years than otherwise-similar women who didn’t benefit. And, by boosting the employment and earnings of working-age women, the EITC boosts the size of the Social Security retirement benefits they ultimately will receive.”In addition, the research shows that by boosting the employment of single mothers, the EITC reduces the number of female-headed households receiving cash welfare assistance,” according to the center.So far, at least, there is no plan to end the Earned Income Tax Credit. However the House Budget Committee has proposed that the IRS require more proof from taxpayers and audit homes with an error. (Auditing the poor seems a long way from the Willie Horton philosophy of tax collection, or bank robbing, and that’s the idea you go where the money is.)Read full article:

Washington Update: Oct. 2017

This has been a hard week on Congress and the rest of the Country struggling to grasp the magnitude of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Sunday night, and the motivation of the killer.  Debate, shifted from the GOP tax reform package release last week, to gun control legislation.   Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla) is looking at introducing  a legislative package to ban Bump Stocks, a tool to convert semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic.  Speaker Ryan, has spoken this week on the issue, and implies the party is looking also at a regulatory rather than legislative fix to the use of Bump Stocks.  The fact either path, is being debated by the GOP is a departure from past positions on gun control, but reflects that the shooting in Las Vegas has a big impact on country and what can be done to prevent future misuse of illegal weapons.
Meanwhile, the GOP is pushing tax reform, and the advantages to both large businesses and individuals.  After, the failure to pass health care reform, to free up revenue for Tax Reform, now the debate is on whether Tax Reform will increase the deficit by reducing tax rates. If Republicans do aim for a deficit-neutral plan, it would make it much more difficult to advance a package that relies on the theory that short-term deficits can lead to long-term economic growth.
Instead, the GOP would be forced to find ways to pay for the tax cuts, inevitably creating a “winners and losers” situation in which some income brackets would see a reduction in their taxes, while others may see an increase. Removing the state and local tax deduction, for example, has become a huge point of debate within the party because some states, like Pennsylvania and New York, might be more adversely impacted than others where the state and local taxes are not as high.
For this update, we will report on the tax reform plan, where the budget stands, and how Indian country may be impacted.
Tribal Law Updates

Updates to the Tribal Court Clearinghouse

Turtle Talk

Indigenous Law and Policy Center Blog Michigan State University College of Law

Native Law Policy

Washington politics Updates

Legal Blog Watch

Washington politics Updates

Washington politics Updates

Smoke Signals

Washington politics Updates

Native American Law Focus

Washington politics Updates