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WASHINGTON — In addition to articles already covered by Native News Online, here is an overview of other news released from Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country during the past week.

Sen. Tina Smith Leads Senate Hearing on Expanding Economic Development in Underserved Communities

Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), who serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led the Senate Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development hearing on Friday to discuss two bills that address economic disparities in distressed communities and the expansion of financial services and capital investment on tribal lands, rural communities and among people of color communities.

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Many witnesses testified in support of this legislation, a few who include: 

  • Lakota Vogel - Executive Director, Four Bands Community Fund
  • Frank Altman - Founder and CEO, Community Reinvestment Fund
  • John Holdsclaw - President, Coalition of Community Development Financial Institutions

The bills would strengthen and expand Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that include Native CDFIs, which play an important role in bringing capital and financial services to the wide range of underserved communities. These communities include everything from urban areas to small towns and rural communities to tribal lands.

The first bill, the CDFI Bond Guarantee Program Improvement Act, if passed, will improve, expand, and make permanent a successful program that allows CDFI’s to access long term and stable funding. 

The second, the Native American Rural Homeownership Improvement Act, will help Native families living in rural areas achieve home ownership by expanding a program that supports access to mortgages for Native Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission Launched the Affordable Connectivity Program

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a $14.2 billion program, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), as created by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. 

The ACP will provide eligible households with a basic discount of up to $30 of the monthly cost of internet service purchased from a participating provider. This will also continue the up-to-$75 per month discount for eligible households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households may also be eligible to receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers; may be subject to modest co-payment.

However, unlike the EBB program, those who qualified solely on the basis of having their income impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be eligible on that basis alone. 

Enrollment in the ACP is now open, and those who were previously enrolled in EBB as of December 31, 2021 will continue to receive their current monthly benefit until March 1, 2022.

Major Disaster Declaration for Washington Approved by President Biden

On Thursday, FEMA announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available to Washington state in order to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by flooding and mudslides from November 13-15, 2021. 

Three tribes based in Washington state qualify for funds under this declaration. They are the Lummi Nation, Nooksack Indian Tribe, and Quileute Tribe. The federal assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, loans to cover property loss. In addition to the tribal lands, individuals who were affected in  in Clallam, Skagit and Whatcom counties are eligible for the assistance.

Toney Raines has been named the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas. 

Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated areas can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621- 3362. If you use a relay service, such as video relay service (VRS), captioned telephone service or others, give FEMA the number for that service.

New Director of the Office of Native American Affairs Welcomed

Ira Matt, a tribal citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation, has been named the new director of The Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA) for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Previously, Matt served as Senior Program Analyst in ONAA. He has more than 22 years of historic preservation and cultural resources management experience at both the tribal and federal levels. In 2015, he began working at the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), he then moved to ONAA in 2018.

He has also served on various committees of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. On top of that, he worked for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for 16 years before going on to work for the ACHP. It was in this job that Matt generated positive outcomes in cultural resource management by implementing historic preservation as a tool to effectuate cultural perpetuation. 

Ira Matt also has various federal experience which includes serving as the Federal Preservation Officer/National Archaeologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. On top of this, he has also worked as a tribal affairs specialist for the Department of Energy. 

FCC Searching for Additional Nominations for Two Working Groups

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking to applicants to fill the Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture.

The two working groups in the Task Force are: “Examining Current and Future Connectivity Demand for Precision Agriculture” and “Encouraging Adoption of Precision Agriculture and Availability of High-Quality Jobs on Connected Farms.”

This Task Force provides advice and recommendations to the FCC on how to assess and advance deployment of broadband internet access service on unserved agriculture land.

Each of these groups meet multiple times each year, each nominee must be willing to serve for a two-year term. Specifically, the FCC seeks nominations from agricultural producers representing tribal agriculture.

Nominations are due January 17, 2022. Nominations can be submitted via email to [email protected]

More information about the task force can be found here. Information about nominations and nominee obligations can be found here.

Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), a Michigan State University student who is interning with Native News Online, contributed to these briefs.

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