HEALTH CARE The Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership (HELP) expands Montana’s Medicaid program providing new federal dollars to Indian Health Service facilities, helping to address funding shortages and improve access to quality health care. This bill will expand health care coverage to adults making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (for an individual with an income of $16,000 or about $7.75/hour).
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Indian Country Economic Development (ICED) Program was funded at $1.6 million for the 2017 biennium. ICED provides grants to individual tribal members and tribes to start or expand businesses. Since 2005, funding must be reapproved by the Legislature every two years, making it difficult for Indian Country to formulate long-term economic development strategies and sustainable projects. Governor Bullock asked state legislators to move the ICED program from this one-time-only funding status into the base budget, which would provide financial stability and allow for long-term planning, not approved.
TRIBAL COLLEGES Tribal College Reimbursement Program sponsored by Rep. Webber, D-Browning, aimed to increase the funding for non-tribal students who attend tribal colleges using a formula that would provide an initial 8 percent per-student increase, followed by an inflationary increase every two years. The legislature amended HB 196 to remove any provisions for future inflationary adjustments to the funding rates and retained the provision that per-student funding will be “limited to a maximum annual amount.” The increase in funding was not included in the 2015 state budget and therefore must be revisited in 2017.
NATIVE LANGUAGES Promote Montana Indian Languages sponsored by Rep. Kip, D-Heart Butte, continues $1.5 million in funding for the Montana Indian Language Preservation (MILP) program providing each of Montana’s tribes with support to revitalize their tribal languages. This is a reduction from the $2 million appropriated during the 2013 legislative session. This program assists in the preservation efforts and curricular goals associated with the Indian Education for All statute and the more recently established tribal language preservation efforts.
IMMERSION SCHOOLS Encourage Indian language immersion schools introduced by Sen. Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, encourages language immersion classes in public schools. Funding in the amount of $45,000 will be provided to the Office of Public Instruction to distribute to a select number of schools that implement a tribal language immersion-style program. Funding eligibility has been designated for schools that have a 10 percent American Indian student population. This program is intended to put to use the material and curriculums created under the MILP program. Tribal language in schools has been shown to be a protective factor for American Indian children.
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT Provide for recognition of tribally organized business entities; sponsored by Sen. Stewart-Pergo, D-Crow Agency, this bill changes current law to recognize tribal businesses as foreign corporations, which means a corporation can be organized under the laws of a federally recognized Indian tribe. Prior to the passing of this bill businesses incorporated under tribal law were forced to seek additional incorporation under Montana state law, which is a time-consuming and expensive requirement. Businesses organized under tribal law in Montana were previously registered under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which resulted in complicated dealings with banks and other financial institutions, who couldn’t find the businesses listed in the Montana Secretary of State’s office. It will now be easier for tribal businesses to operate outside of reservation boundaries, have easier access to bank loans, and have greater access to economic viability.
ENERGY ASSISTANCE Revise Universal System Benefits funds for low-income energy and weatherization assistance; sponsored by Windy Boy increased the percentage of funding that is provided to Low Income Energy Assistance Programs (LIEAP) through a tax collected from utility companies and added tribal LIEAP programs as eligible recipients this funding has traditionally been split three ways through LIEAP programs, conservation efforts, and renewable energy demonstration projects. This increase can now provide 50 percent of this funding to tribal LIEAP programs, which could provide weatherization to approximately 120 more homes.Other legislative initiatives sponsored by Native Montanan legislators and supported by the Native American Caucus failed. Those included: Revising laws related to national park concessions, Native American Gap Financing Revolving Loan Program, Expand Montana Schools of Promise Initiative and the Native American and Rural Youth Suicide Prevention Pilot Program.“We still have much work to do,” said Windy Boy. “And you can count on us to give it our best try.” (Clara Caufield can be reached @ acheyennevoice.com)Copyright permission Native Sun News
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