June 13, 2017

Panels Examine Bills to Improve Critical Tribal Health Care and Housing Programs

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), today convened a legislative hearing on three bills intended to strengthen and improve important programs for Native Americans, including tribal health care and housing.
The Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2017 (S. 1250), sponsored by Hoeven and Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and John Thune (R-SD), would bring system-wide reform to the Indian Health Service (IHS) to help ensure Native Americans have access to reliable, quality health care.
“This bill is intended to increase transparency and accountability, improve patient safety and care, and boost recruitment and retention of employees in the IHS,” said Hoeven.
Victoria Kitcheyan, treasurer for the Winnebago Tribal Council and Great Plains Area Representative for the National Indian Health Board, said, “American Indian and Alaska Natives suffer some of the worst health disparities of all Americans. In some states, life expectancy is 20 years less [than other Americans]. With these statistics, it is unconscionable that some IHS-operated facilities continue to deliver a poor quality of care to our people… It is clear that management, recruitment, accountability and transparency are all still issues that need to be addressed, most of which are covered in the proposed legislation.”
The other two bills discussed at the hearing were the Building Useful Initiatives for Indian Land Development (BUIILD) Act (S. 1275), authored and introduced by Hoeven, and the Tribal HUD-VASH Act (S. 1333), sponsored by Hoeven and Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Both bills reauthorize critical Indian housing programs that address the homelessness and under-housing of tribal citizens and veterans, respectively.
“This committee has worked for several years to reauthorize the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) and improve housing conditions for Indian people,” said Hoeven. “The BUIILD Act reauthorizes the Indian Housing Block Grant, which was the centerpiece of NAHASDA… I want to take a fresh look at getting this bill across the finish line.”
“The BUIILD Act represents a streamlined effort to reauthorize the single most critical tool for developing safe, affordable housing in Alaska Native and American Indian communities – the Indian Housing Block Grant,” said Mark Charlie, president and CEO of the AVCP Regional Housing Authority.
Heidi Frechette, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Native American Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), also voiced support for the HUD Indian housing programs reauthorized under the proposed pieces of legislation, which include the Indian Housing Block Grant, Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program, and the Tribal HUD-VASH program.
“Far too many families live in unacceptable circumstances and face a future that lacks education and economic opportunity,” said Frechette. “[These programs] are successful examples of federal programs that provide local choice, under streamlined governmental requirements, and leverage private market investment while respecting tribal self-governance.”
“These are important bills to help Indian people obtain critical services for health care and housing,” Hoeven concluded. “I look forward to seeing how we can best advance these measures and get them signed into law.”
The committee also heard testimony from Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan, acting director of the Indian Health Service at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Joseph P. Crowley, president-elect of the American Dental Association; Mr. Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service; Dr. Keith Harris, director of Clinical Operations at the Homeless Programs Office in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; the Honorable Liana Onnen, area vice president of the Southern Plains Region for the National Congress of American Indians; and Sami Jo Difuntorum, chairwoman of the National American Indian Housing Council.
Click here to view full witness testimony.