WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following remarks at a committee oversight hearing on “Accessing USDA Rural Development Programs in Native Communities.”
The hearing featured testimony from Ms. Lillian Salerno, deputy undersecretary for the Rural Development Mission Area at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Mr. Lafe Haugen, executive director for the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Housing Authority; and Mr. Timothy Schuerch, president and CEO for the Maniilaq Association.
Click here for more information on the witnesses’ testimony and to watch video of the entire hearing.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today the committee will hold an oversight hearing on Accessing USDA Rural development programs in Native communities
“More than 88 programs administered by 16 different federal agencies target rural economic development in the United States.
“The USDA administers the greatest number of rural development programs and has the highest average of program funds going directly to rural counties.
“According to the USDA’s own Agriculture Census in 2012 just over seventy two thousand farms and ranches are owned and operated by Native Americans.
“The same USDA census found that among minority communities Native Americans operate the second highest number of farms and ranches, with the highest concentration being in the southwest United States, and the states of Oklahoma and North Carolina.
“In my own state of Wyoming tribal members work alongside their neighbors growing and producing many of the agricultural products that feed American families every day.
“Again, according to the USDA Agriculture Census, American Indian and Alaska Native-owned farms account for approximately $3.3 billion of market value for the products they sell, yet many tribes are located in the some of the poorest rural counties in the United States.
“Approximately thirty percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in rural communities and nearly forty percent of rural tribal jobs are dependent on agriculture.
“Despite these numbers the committee continues to hear that tribes lack access to USDA rural development programs, and many times as they say ‘the proof is in the numbers.’
“As an example, in her most recent written testimony before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, Lisa Mensah, undersecretary for rural development at the USDA, stated that, ‘since 2009, USDA Rural Development has helped more than 1.1 million rural families buy, refinance and maintain homes with $137.5 billion in Rural Housing Service investments.’
“However, only $1.3 billion from that period went to providing rural housing in tribal areas. That is just less than one percent of the rural housing Service investments going towards Native communities.
“The comment we hear from tribes regarding rural development is, when a tribe identifies the right program to address their need it is a bureaucratic nightmare.
“Despite its 212 billion dollar loan portfolio, USDA has only invested, 3.1 billion dollars with tribes.
“With so many tribes located in rural areas it is important for this Committee to understand how USDA rural development is working to conduct outreach with tribes not only in the agricultural area, but also in rural business development, housing, and utility services.
“I am particularly interested in hearing from USDA on how they can better market and outreach their programs and opportunities to tribal communities. Why aren’t tribes accessing these resources? What are the barriers and how can Congress and others assist.”