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Infrastructure bill earmarks funding for tribes

Aug 17, 2021

On August 10, the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Under the spending package, Native American tribes stand to benefit from significant new investments in transportation, water infrastructure, broadband deployment, cybersecurity and more.

The bill, which passed the Senate 69-30, now moves to the House for consideration.

Nearly half of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is new spending. This includes specific provisions to support Native American communities:

  • Transportation: $3 billion over five years through the Tribal Transportation Program. Funds are specified for high-priority projects, including $100 million to repair bridges in Indian Country. The act also includes $270 million over five years for road maintenance under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  • Water infrastructure: $3.5 billion in the Indian Health Service Sanitation Facilities Construction program. This could include funds for small sewer projects and septic tanks. An additional $250 million is allocated for tribal reservations in five different river basins for clean drinking water projects.
  • Water rights: $2.5 billion to fund the “Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund.” That fund would be used by the U.S. Department of the Interior to finalize water rights deals already approved by Congress.
  • Broadband: $2 billion in new funds for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. That program was established by the December COVID-19 relief law and was previously funded with $1 billion. Funds can be used for broadband infrastructure as well as digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth and distance learning.
  • Mine site cleanup: $1.5 billion to be distributed as grants for the cleanup of hardrock mine sites, plus another $1.5 billion for cleanup projects on federal lands.
  • Cybersecurity: The bill would establish a new federal cybersecurity grant program that includes tribal governments.
  • New voice in administration: The bill would establish a new Assistant Secretary for Tribal Government Affairs under the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • Climate response: $86 million for tribal climate resilience and adaptation, plus another $130 million for community relocation planning to address the impact of climate change on tribal communities across the country.

Additional provisions include $400 million to remove barriers to fish passage, with up to 15% set aside for tribes or tribal partnerships. Appropriations also include $905 million for ecosystem restoration, and tribes will have an opportunity to secure part of those funds.

Under provisions of the bill, qualifying projects include safe streets, energy, methane reduction, wildfire risk reduction and mitigation, reforestation, recycling and clean school buses. 

The legislation is the result of bipartisan negotiations led by U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Rob Portman (R-OH). It replaces the Invest in America Act, which was started in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A statement from Senator Sinema’s office indicates the bill is supported by a range of industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the AFL-CIO, the National Retail Federation, the Bipartisan Policy Center, North America’s Building Trades Unions, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

What’s next?

Aside from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill, a second $3.5 trillion democratic proposal was passed in the Senate on a party-line vote of 50 to 49. 

The next step in the budget reconciliation process is that the House of Representatives will have to pass an identical budget resolution — only when that happens can the Senate Democrats pass the $3.5 trillion bill by simple majority using the budget reconciliation process. 

Regardless of the timeline and outcome, it’s likely there will be a significant amount of funds available to tribes to invest in infrastructure projects, including broadband, water infrastructure and transportation. 

How Wipfli can help

If you have questions about securing funds that may be available under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, contact us. We’re here to help you stay abreast of legislative changes.

Wipfli tribal government advisors can help you plan for the investment opportunities ahead and spend the funds per legislative stipulations, including necessary tracking and reporting.

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Author(s)

Suresh Geer
Director
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