2018 Farm Bill Passes U.S. Senate - Voices from Indian Country Respond

2018 #FarmBill Passes U.S. Senate - Voices from Indian Country Respond - Measures include legalized hemp farming. Photo Vincent Schilling

Early Thursday evening, the U.S. Senate passed the 2018 Farm Bill which included provisions to support Indian Country.

Early Thursday evening, the U.S. Senate passed the 2018 Farm Bill which included provisions to support Indian Country. The inclusion of these Native American-related provisions has been lauded by many in Indian Country as they could provide new opportunities for tribal governments and Native producers to address conservation, rural development, credit, food access, and dietary health in Indian Country.

The Senate bill must now be reconciled with a House version.

Shortly after the bill's passage Thursday, Indian Country Today received official statements form several organizations about the bill to include the Native Farm Bill Coalition, the National Congress of American Indians’ President Jefferson Keel, and from Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

The road to the 2018 Farm Bill passage was a collaborative effort between organizations and political forces. The National Congress of American Indians worked with Congressional and Senate leaders, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) worked with Indian Affairs Chairman John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) and Vice-Chairman Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), along with many other senators of both parties.

The statements released to Indian Country Today are as follows:

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Jefferson Keel.

“This is a strong Farm Bill for Indian Country, and we welcome this bipartisan legislation that would increase tribal access to programs across the United States Department of Agriculture. We appreciate the tireless efforts of Chairman Hoeven and Vice Chairman Udall, who have worked closely with the Agriculture Committee, Chairman Roberts, Ranking Member Stabenow and many other members on this bill. Tribal governments are often the drivers of rural economies, and the opportunities presented in this legislation, including the establishment of the first USDA self-determination program, will provide a brighter future for those in and around Indian Country.”

Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee

“The Senate took an important step to help ensure the farm bill supports our Native American farmers, ranchers and communities,” said Hoeven. “This legislation enhances tribal self-governance for food and agriculture programs, expands grant and research opportunities for tribal colleges and universities, and strengthens the partnership between USDA and Indian tribes. These improvements will provide important resources to Indian Country’s producers, who help drive many rural tribal economies.”

Chairman Hoeven secured the following Indian Country priorities in the Senate farm bill:

  • Tribal Self-Determination Project for FDPIR Food Procurement – Authorizes $5 million to establish a tribal self-determination procurement demonstration project within the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), which will allow tribal food programs to better serve the nearly 90,000 Native Americans who currently participate in FDPIR, including elders and youth.
  • Tribal Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Ranching – Establishes a permanent advisory committee within USDA to provide technical assistance, guidance, and direction on policies implemented by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Office of Tribal Relations.
  • Access to USDA Grants for Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) – Enhances grant and research opportunities for TCUs by expanding access to nearly $11.3 million in USDA research and extension funding, including the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program; the Children, Youth and Families at Risk Program; and the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program. The legislation also provides a technical fix to update the names of the 36 TCUs.
  • Certainty for Tribal Promise Zone Designees – Helps ensure the four Tribal Promise Zones, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe, have access to resources and technical assistance from federal agency partners.
    Promoting Trade for Tribal Producers – Facilitates greater participation of tribal producers on international trade missions.
  • Addressing Food Fraud – Directs the Government Accountability Office to study the impact of foods fraudulently marketed as Native American produced goods.

Native Farm Bill Coalition

“The member tribes and tribal organizations of the Native Farm Bill Coalition today praise the U.S. Senate’s passage of its version of the 2018 Farm Bill, and express their great appreciation to the bipartisan group of United States senators who worked to ensure that measures which are important to Native American tribes and producers were included to make this historic investment in Indian Country food and agriculture production, infrastructure, and economic development.”

The intense efforts on behalf of Indian Country issues, by dozens of senators and their hard-working staff, were remarkable, as was the outcome. The following provisions of historic significance to Indian Country are included in the bill:

  • Key refinancing provisions for Rural Development programs currently within the Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) designation
  • Creation of a Tribal Advisory Council to USDA
  • Reauthorization of support for Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU), adding two tribal colleges previously excluded and creating parity for access to additional programs
  • Adjusting the match requirements and funding limitations to reduce the administrative burden for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) so that economically disadvantaged tribes may reach more households in need of assistance
  • Authorizing a new $5 million demonstration project to allow some tribes to purchase some FDPIR food under self-determination (“638”) contracts
  • Allowing administrative funding for FDPIR to remain available for two years
  • Provides tribes the ability to use federal funding (and Indian Health Service funding) to meet the matching requirement in the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program
  • Makes tribes eligible to participate in local food programs to help tribes grow, process and market Native foods
  • Expanding alternative funding arrangements for tribes utilizing key conservation funding programs
  • Providing TCUs with parity in McIntire-Stennis Act funding eligibility
  • Authorizing tribes, like other governments, to exercise Good Neighbor Authority in forestry management agreements
  • Making tribes eligible for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers program funding
  • Codifying community connect for tribes and other underserved communities
  • Creating a Native American student scholarship fund for tribal students who attend land grant universities and colleges
  • Establishing a Tribal Technical Assistance Office at Rural Development
  • Legalizing hemp farming / creating new state and tribal plans to develop and expand hemp production
  • Increases opportunities for tribes to participate in international U.S. trade delegations
  • Adds tribes and tribal organizations as specifically eligible under the livestock disaster programs
  • Creates a Tribal Promise Zone to focus USDA resources into a tribal community to stimulate local economic development
  • Requires a Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of foods frequently marketed as Native products
  • Authorizes micro-loans for local foods in food insecure areas
  • Additional provisions supporting food and agriculture production in Indian Country

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma

“Protecting our farmers and ranchers is essential to the agriculture community and our nation’s economy,” Cole said. “To maintain healthy crops and produce, farmers and ranchers need protection and stability. This year’s farm bill provides those securities.”

“I am pleased that this year’s farm bill includes provisions to preserve and strengthen crop insurance, which is crucial to protecting Oklahoma’s farmers and their harvests. Additionally, the Farm Bill will continue to maintain the Conservation Reserve Program, which promotes soil conservation and has been beneficial to Oklahoma’s farmers for decades.”

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

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