August 02, 2023

Kilmer Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Effectiveness of USDA Programs for Tribal Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and Nick Langworthy (NY-23) announced the introduction of the REACH Our Tribes Act, legislation to make government help more effective for Tribal communities by ensuring they have a say in budget decisions, tracking how well the help is working, and making it easier to find and use available resources.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some terrific programs that can help with economic development in rural communities. But, too often, Tribal communities haven't been adequately able to take advantage of those resources due to a variety of factors. The REACH Our Tribes Act seeks to address that by improving consultation and data transparency,” said Rep. Kilmer. “By mandating a formal Tribal consultation process and improving reporting, we not only acknowledge the sovereign rights of Tribal nations, but also equip ourselves with the knowledge required to enhance service delivery and utilization. This bill will also streamline processes and ensure Tribes have the information and resources they need to flourish.”

“The REACH Our Tribes Act paves the way for overdue improvements in tribal consultation, data reporting, and interagency collaboration for the USDA's economic development programs,” said Rep. Langworthy. “I represent multiple tribes and reservations in Western New York and the Southern Tier — it’s my priority to ensure their voices are heard by our federal government. By establishing a formal consultation process and removing bureaucratic red tape, we are empowering our tribal communities to benefit from our rural development programs.”

The REACH Our Tribes Act aims to enhance the efficacy of the USDA’s economic and rural development programs for Tribal entities. One of its key provisions is the formalization of a Tribal consultation process within the USDA’s budgetary planning. This move ensures greater collaboration and equity in decisions regarding budget allocations and reauthorizations. The Act also mandates comprehensive data analysis and reporting on obligations made to Tribal entities, addressing the current data gap and enhancing our understanding of program impact, potential service gaps, and Tribal utilization.

The REACH Our Tribes Act also fosters inter-agency collaboration for economic development programs, seeking to streamline planning, application requirements, and stakeholder engagement across the USDA, HUD, and EDA. It calls for the establishment of a repository of federal economic development programs available to Tribal entities, managed by the Department of Commerce’s Office of Native American Business Development. This repository will offer a centralized and up-to-date source of information, facilitating Tribal entities’ access to relevant programs.

The REACH Our Tribes Act is endorsed by the National Congress of American Indians, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, and the Native Farm Bill Coalition.

“The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) strongly supports the REACH Out Tribes Act introduced by Representative Kilmer and Representative Langworthy,” said Larry Wright, Jr., Executive Director, NCAI. “This Act strengthens the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations by ensuring that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a formal process in place for accepting Tribal Nation input on critically important USDA matters and by ensuring Tribal Nations and Native farmers, ranchers, and others have access to valuable information about USDA programming throughout Indian Country. NCAI will continue to work as part of the Native Farm Bill Coalition and with other partners to advocate for Congressional passage of this important piece of legislation.”

“The REACH Our Tribes Act will ensure that USDA institutes a formal process for obtaining Tribal input and providing transparency in the deployment of federal dollars,” said Cole Miller (Vice-Chairman, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community) and Kari Jo Lawrence (Executive Director, Intertribal Agriculture Council), Co-Chairs of the Native Farm Bill Coalition. “This bill is critical given the recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office highlighting the USDA’s lack of understanding of its federal trust responsibility, its obligation to consult with Tribal governments on the department’s annual budget, and the programs and services it administers throughout Indian Country. We are grateful for the leadership of Representative Kilmer and Representative Langworthy in statutorily requiring USDA to consult with Indian Tribes on its annual budget request and programs it administers.”

“The REACH Our Tribes Act will lessen the burden on tribes when applying for funding and ensure that technical assistance resources are spread more robustly to tribes,” said Olga Morales-Pate, CEO, Rural Community Assistance Partnership. “RCAP’s technical assistance providers have deep experience gained over 50 years doing what this bill envisions, namely helping tribal communities manage their financial strategies, assisting with applications for USDA Loan and Grant Programs.”

# # #