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WASHINGTON — In addition to articles already covered by Native News Online, here is a roundup of other news released from Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country recently.

FCC Seeks Information on 988 Fees

This is a reminder than the Federal Communication Commmision’s (FCC) Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) is requesting that states, political subdivisions, Indian Tribes, or villages or regional corporations submit information on their jurisdiction’s authority to collect 988 fees or charges, the amount of revenue collected from the 988 fee or charge, and how the revenue collected from the 988 fee or charge was used, covering the period from January 1, 2023 through December 31, 2023. 

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In 2020, Congress enacted the 988 Act designating 988 as the universal telephone number within the United States for the purpose of the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system.  The 988 Act also provided that States, political subdivisions, Indian Tribes, or villages or regional corporations established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, may impose and collect a fee for 988-related services, including (1) efficient and effective routing of calls made to 988 to an appropriate crisis center; and (2) personnel and acute mental health, crisis outreach, and stabilization services to respond to 988 calls.  The 988 Act also mandated that FCC submit an Annual report to Congress on 988 fees.  The 988 fee collection information will be used by the FCC in its Annual report to Congress.

The requested 988 fee information must be provided through a fillable questionnaire, available for download at https://www.fcc.gov/988-feereports-and-reporting, and be submitted to [email protected] no later than July 17, 2024.  Tribal and other entities are asked to download and complete the questionnaire, even if they are not collecting or distributing 988 fees, and submit via email to the FCC at [email protected].

BIE Expands Agricultural Education Opportunities for Native Students
The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and the Native American Agriculture Fund announced a new partnership that will allow more BIE students to benefit from comprehensive, culturally relevant agricultural training and education. The agreement, which was signed during a ceremony at a Bureau of Indian Education school two weeks ago, and the initial implementation for this education resource will be piloted in Wingate, New Mexico.
 
“This partnership furthers BIE’s commitment to provide a high-quality, culturally relevant education while empowering Native communities and paving the way for a brighter future in Indigenous agriculture,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said.  “Increasing agricultural education through business and lending experiences, vocational education programs, youth initiatives and outdoor agricultural exposure helps to create increased interest and new opportunities for Native students to develop career pathways in agriculture and related fields.”
 
The educational resources developed for use as part of this partnership delve into Native agricultural history and modern practices, focusing on topics like origins, leadership, and plant science within Native communities. By integrating project-based learning, students engage deeply with the principles and practices of traditional agriculture, fostering an understanding of Indigenous agricultural systems across Native lands in the United States.
Two US Senators Call for  Five Year Tribal BABA Waiver

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chair of the U.S. Senate on Indian Affairs (SCIA), and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) expressing their concern with the implementation of the Build America, Buy America (BABA) Act and the impact on infrastructure development in Native communities.

In the letter, the senators note that Native communities continue to face challenges with infrastructure construction due to a lack of contractors, remote geography, and ongoing supply chain issues, and that these challenges will only be exacerbated by the implementation of the BABA mandate. Murkowski and Sullivan urge OMB to issue a 5-year waiver of the Buy America preferences for all federal financial assistance to tribes for infrastructure projects. 

“Native communities – particularly those in Alaska – face incredible challenges when it comes to improving and developing infrastructure, especially when it comes to safe, affordable housing. Alaska’s barging and building seasons are shorter, the price of supplies are higher, geography is more vast, and securing a work force is often more challenging. Driven by feedback from Tribal leaders, I’m calling on OMB to ensure that waivers are in place to provide the greatest opportunity for Tribal flexibility during the implementation of the BABA Act,” Vice Chair Murkowski said. “Numerous members of the Alaska State Legislature, both Democrats and Republicans, have also requested relief from BABA for Tribal housing. The need is evident. We must ensure that the added challenges faced by remote and rural communities do not stand in the way of Tribes using the BABA Act to gain the support that Congress intended.”

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