WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following address to the National American Indian Housing Council.
Barrasso’s remarks focused on the work the committee has done on housing and the importance of reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.
Senator Barrasso’s Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:
“I’d like to welcome all the members of the National American Indian Housing Council, tribal leaders from across Indian country, and other distinguished guests with us today.
“I want to thank NAIHC’s Chairwoman Sami Jo Difuntorum for inviting me to speak to you today.
“I appreciate the opportunity to update you on the work the committee is doing on behalf of Indian Country.
“I am honored to serve as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and to work with my colleagues who are committed to helping tribal communities.
“As you all know, one of the most urgent needs in Indian Country is housing.
“Families need good, safe, and affordable homes in order to prosper.
“And there are not enough of these kinds of housing in tribal areas.
“We have far too many tribal members who are living in inadequate houses or have actually become homeless.
“This is why we need to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, or NAHASDA for short.
“This legislation simplifies Indian housing by offering block grants and loan-guarantee programs.
“This important program expired in 2013.
“While funding remains, it needs to be reauthorized. Otherwise it becomes known as discretionary spending. That means the Indian Block Grant will have to compete with all of the other expired programs to get funding.
“In March of last year, I introduced a bill that will reauthorize NAHASDA until 2020, and will also enhance it.
“My legislation will improve the program by establishing the Office of the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee Indian programs like this one.
“This means that there will be someone in Washington who is directly accountable for Indian housing.
“We’re also going to eliminate Washington’s duplicative requirements on tribes when multiple government agencies are involved in a housing project.
“Washington should empower tribes, not restrain them. That is exactly what my bill aims to do.
“This legislation will also simplify actions like trying to meet environmental review standards or administering programs to benefit American Indian veterans.
“Finally, my bill will also give tribes more freedom to use income from housing assistance programs in ways that will best help their members.
“The bill passed the committee unanimously, and it has strong bipartisan support.
“We hope it will pass the full Senate this year, and that we can work with members in the House of Representatives to get it across the finish line.
“I appreciate the National American Indian Housing Council’s support of my bill, and I also appreciate the work that all of you are doing on behalf of your communities.
“The council plays an important role in fostering conversations about tribal housing and finding solutions to Indian country’s housing needs.
“I ask that you continue to work with us to make sure that the reauthorization of NAHASDA becomes law.
“Beyond this bill, there is much work left to be done to improve housing in Indian Country.
“Last year, one of my first hearings was on leveraging.
“I know how important it is to leverage federal dollars for infrastructure and purchasing power.
“I will continue to promote leveraging as a way forward for economic development.
“I am also committed to breaking down bureaucratic red tape for more self-determination.
“The HEARTH Act became law in 2012. So I find it hard to believe that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development title approvals continue to take so long to perfect title to native lands.
“This leads to lost revenue and lost home investment opportunities. It’s unacceptable.
“The HEARTH Act was meant to allow tribes the ability to manage their own land, and this is not happening, especially with loan guarantees.
“Can someone please tell me why it is taking the Department of Housing and Urban Development six years to deliver the “Housing Needs Study” that Congress asked for in 2010?
“Congress needs to see the actual figure for housing needs in Indian Country. All of you, with NAIHC, need to see these numbers too.
“I am afraid that we may be approaching a point where the data used in that needs assessment is out of date. I hope that’s not the case.
“I will be pressing for answers this week when my staff meets with HUD on Thursday.
“Finally, let me say that I know that this organization has played an important role in the Formula Negotiated Rule Making Session that just ended two weeks ago.
“Many here were part of the negotiated rulemaking process.
“I know that you all have had eight meaningful negotiation sessions spanning almost three years. That’s a long time.
“Many of you know my staff director was also part of those negotiations. That’s why I sent him and staff over to HUD two weeks ago to keep me and the committee posted on the outcome.
“Let me assure everyone here, the committee will remain engaged on the outcome of the final rule. As I have often said, the best solutions, or in this case negotiations, come from Indian Country, not Congress.
“Thank you again for the invitation to speak today and have a great legislative conference.”