Senate Hearing on Native Communities’ Access to Rural Development Programs

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on June 22 to address the issue of accessibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development programs to native communities throughout the nation.

Committee Chair John Barrasso (R-WY) opened the hearing by acknowledging the poverty in which many rural tribal communities live. He also pointed out that, of the USDA’s $137.5 billion invested in rural housing since 2009, only $1.3 billion had gone to rural tribal housing needs. Senator Barrasso stated that “a comment we hear from tribes regarding rural community development is that, when a tribe identifies the right [USDA] program to address their needs, the process is a bureaucratic nightmare.”

Lafe Haugen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Housing Authority offered his perspective on holes in USDA rural housing programs. He spoke of the challenges native communities face in his home state, citing that “of the ten housing programs the USDA offers [in Montana], tribes only really qualify for the 504 Grant program that provides minimal home repairs for the elderly.” Mr. Haugen explained that the “rest of the programs require extensive documentation ranging from cumbersome environmental process to the issue of foreclosure,” making them largely inaccessible for tribal communities seeking assistance. He explained that similar accessibility issues had been addressed in HUD’s housing assistance programs and questioned why the same couldn’t be done in USDA programs.

Watch the archived hearing and read witness testimony at: