Bringing Economic Development and Jobs to the Reservations
I've always recognized the importance of bringing good-paying jobs to Indian Country. That's why I've fought to include important tax incentives for investors interested in the future of Montana's reservations.
On July 23, 2007, I reintroduced the Tribal Government Tax Exempt Bond Parity Act of 2007, an important bill for Tribal infrastructure. Currently, Indian Nations, as sovereign entities, can issue tax-exempt bonds for bridges, roads, and other infrastructure, just as states and municipalities can. However, the Internal Revenue Service has been auditing Tribal bonds at a greater frequency than those of non-Tribal entities. I helped remedy this situation in the 2009 Jobs Bill.
This bill will put Indian Nations on an equal footing with states and municipalities, to encourage sorely needed infrastructure investment. Non-Tribal entities have used tax-exempt bonds for commercial activities including bonds for tourism, hotels, golf courses, and convention centers. These are vital areas that Indian Country can take advantage of, and they deserve to be able to issue tax-exempt bonds without the fear of IRS audits.
Tribal New Market Tax Credits
I pushed for a proposal that would create New Market Tax Credits to help fund economic development on the reservations. The provisions would allow community development groups to distribute tax credits to businesses that relocate to Indian reservations in Montana with high poverty rates. As part of the 2009 Jobs Bill, I added an additional $1.5 billion for 2008, and an additional $1.5 billion for 2009. While this is not Indian-specific, tribes will be able to take advantage of these allocations like anyone else.
Tribal School Bonds
First-rate schools are the first step to good-paying jobs. I'm currently working on a proposal that will grant tax credit bonds for constructing and rehabilitating tribal schools. Every child deserves a good education, and these bonds will help ensure their schools are in a position to provide modern, comfortable places for young minds to flourish.
I am working to extend the Indian Employment Credit to give a tax credit to employers who hire individuals on the reservation. It's an important tool to ensure job creation continues on Montana's reservations, and to encourage business investment in the economic future of Indian reservations in Montana and elsewhere. During the 111th Congress I plan to take a hard look at tax reform. One of the issues we are taking up is the simplification of the Indian Employment Tax Credit, to streamline the process for companies doing business on reservations. We are also looking at making these two tools permanent, as they presently require yearly extensions.
Many tribes in Montana are entering a new phase in their economic development. Many are considering coal, oil and gas, solar, wind, and geothermal energy production, for example. I stand ready to assist in these endeavors. Many of the tax incentives mentioned above will help finance these projects. We are entering into a truly exciting period of economic development in Indian Country.
The Indian Health Care Improvement Act
On February 26, 2008 the Senate passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2008. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives sat on the bill, despite the best efforts of my Finance Committee to work with the House staff and pass a compatible bill. Fortunately, I was able to add the most important provisions of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into the 2009 Jobs Bill. First, I added the provision that no Native American seeking medical care will pay a co-pay or enrollment fee for Medicaid and CHIP services. Next, I added the provision for the Managed Care Entities that allows Indians enrolling in Medicaid and CHIP to select an Indian health care provider as their primary care provider. Third, I made sure that the Tribal Technical Advisory Group for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid consults with tribes on their issues and includes a representative from a national Urban Indian Health Organization. Finally, I made these provisions permanent.
These changes serve as a source of supplemental funding to support the care provided by the Indian Health Service (IHS) and tribal health clinics. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments improve the ability of the IHS and tribal health clinics to receive reimbursements and remove barriers to Indian access from Medicare and Medicaid program benefits.
Funding Urban Indian Health Programs
In the President's FY 2007-09 budget proposals, the Administration called for the de-funding and elimination of Urban Indian Health Programs. With more than 60 percent of Native Americans living in urban areas, it's too important not to be reauthorized and fully funded. I have co-signed letters and co-sponsored an amendment on the Senate floor to fund this lifesaving program. There are five Urban Indian Health Organizations in Montana, and the closing of these facilities would strain local emergency rooms, county health departments, and local community health centers that are already operating near capacity. I also included language in the Jobs Bill of 2009 that made sure that urban Indian organizations have representation in the Tribal Technical Advisory Group.
Putting the Brakes on Diabetes
I have included reauthorization for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians in the Public Health Service Act. This amendment reauthorizes the special diabetes program appropriations for FY 2009-2013. This program has enabled the Indian Health Service, tribes, and urban Indian programs to develop new diabetes prevention and treatment grant programs. I recently attended a diabetes roundtable in Fort peck, and learned firsthand how these programs are making a real difference for diabetes sufferers. Places like Fort Peck and others have used this funding to make diabetes practices more common in Indian health care facilities. This funding has allowed other communities to establish programs, like the one at Fort Peck, to decrease blood sugar levels and decrease the number of Native Americans who require dialysis for end-stage renal disease. This has been a heartening success, and I will continue to seek funding for this great program.