Murkowski Invests in Rural Alaska
Safe Drinking and Wastewater, Healthcare & Behavioral Health
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced a series of provisions within the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, contained in the full government funding measure, to provide resources and support to programs with significant impacts in communities across rural Alaska. The bill passed in the Senate early Friday morning, March 23 and was signed into law. As Chairman of this subcommittee, Murkowski was able to craft a bill that gives Alaskans a strong voice, by securing full funding for the Native healthcare system, support for subsistence, resources for rural health clinics, and the tribal justice system.
“This bill fulfills the federal trust responsibilities that are so important to the lives of Alaska Natives and sustains critical infrastructure investments in rural communities. So many of these programs were proposed to be eliminated by the administration, so it’s especially notable that we were not only able to restore and maintain program funding, but also ensure support for new programs that will help bring basic water and sewer to rural communities,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “We also prioritize subsistence for our Native people. Simply put, the resources contained in this bill empower Alaska Natives and Alaskans living in remote areas of the state to live in safe, and healthy communities.”
(Note: Numbers are nationwide program funding levels.)
Safe Drinking and Wastewater
- Alaska Native Villages Water Program: Provides $20 million for the construction of new drinking water and wastewater systems, or the improvement of existing systems in rural Alaskan communities.
- Assistance to Small and Disadvantaged Communities Water Program: Funds a new grant program at $20 million to help bring basic water and sewer to communities in need.
Investing in Communities
- Payment in Lieu of Taxes: Fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program at $530 million, to provide monetary compensation to local governments throughout Alaska that contain federal lands that are not subject to state or local taxation. The revenue helps local governments provide vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations.
- Secure Rural Schools: Funds the Secure Rural Schools program for two years to help schools and local budgets across Alaska. In 2016, Alaska received $11.5 million from this program, which helps communities near federal forests.
- Tiwahe Initiative: Provides $15 million for this program to help communities design a comprehensive approach for the delivery of social services and justice programs. The Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) is a Tiwahe Initiative pilot site. The bill also sets aside $200,000 under the initiative for women's and children's shelters.
Health and Wellness
- Village Built Clinics: Maintains funding at $11 million for Village-Built Clinics, a program unique to Alaska that supports 150 healthcare clinics in rural areas which often serve as the only health facility in the respective region.
- Contract Support Costs: Funds contract support costs, the operational and overhead costs in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, to ensure tribes have the necessary resources they need to deliver programs and services. This is especially important to Alaska because all healthcare for Alaska Natives is directly provided by tribal organizations. The account is continued as an indefinite appropriation so that if estimates made by the respective agencies are too low, funds are available to pay these costs without taking funds from other programs which reduce their capacity.
- Zero Suicide Initiative: Provides funding $3.6 million for an IHS program aimed at preventing suicide by providing tools and support for organizations with patients receiving care. The initiative’s premise is that suicide deaths for people receiving care are entirely preventable.
- Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative: Provides funding of $4 million for an IHS initiative that promotes culturally appropriate prevention and treatment approaches to domestic and sexual violence from a community-driven context. This includes funding projects that provide victim advocacy, intervention, case coordination, policy development, community response teams, sexual assault examiner programs, and community and school education programs. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, Chugachmiut, Copper River Native Association, Kodiak Area Native Association, Maniilaq Association, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Southcentral Foundation, and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium all receive funds through this initiative to continue efforts in addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in their communities.
- Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Provides an increase to IHS alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs to $228 million to focus on tribal youth and the incorporation of more holistic healthcare models. Programs within tribal communities to combat alcohol and substance abuse include inpatient and outpatient treatment, and rehabilitation services in both urban and rural settings.
- Behavioral Health Integration: Supports IHS programs to address issues such as mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and behavior-related diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives, ensuring a comprehensive system of preventative care to encourage community support and strong collaborative relationships with other agencies.
- Small Ambulatory Clinics: Provides $15 million in additional resources to make infrastructure improvements across the nation for providing healthcare delivery to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
- Tribal Court Funding (PL280): Increases Tribal Court funding by $3 million, for a total of $13 million, for Public Law 280 states, such as Alaska, in order to help develop tribal court systems for communities.
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): New this year, provides an additional $2 million for training and specific VAWA tribal court needs.
- Small and Needy Tribes: Allocates $4.48 million in funding to ensure all tribes have a base level of support to run tribal governments. Almost 90 percent of national funding goes to Alaska.
Land and Subsistence
- ANCSA Contaminated Lands: Directs BLM to continue to coordinate with all responsible federal agencies to implement a long-term solution to clean up contaminated Alaska Native lands as quickly as possible.
- Legacy Wells: Provides an additional $10 million for the BLM to clean up exploration wells drilled at the direction of the federal government in NPR-A between 1944 and 1982. While Senator Murkowski secured significant funding to clean up these abandoned wells through the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, 26 wells still require remediation. Murkowski’s bill provides enough funding to complete remediation of 9 of the remaining wells, and compels BLM to craft a long-term strategy to finally complete this effort.
- Polar Bear Co-Management: Encourages the Fish and Wildlife Service to work and engage in extensive consultation with Alaska Natives for their subsistence use of polar bears, including incorporating traditional knowledge.
- Arctic Council: Supports the Arctic Council and directs federal agencies to focus on economic opportunities in the region, as well as science and subsistence issues.
- Alaska Subsistence: Includes $14.8 million for the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct activities relating to the Federal Subsistence Board, and work with Alaska Natives to gather information, expand employment and capacity building, and assist subsistence users with law enforcement compliance activities, such as obtaining essential permits and meeting harvest reporting requirements.
- Tribal Management: Continues funding for Alaska subsistence programs at $2 million, extending critical pilot projects and ensuring additional opportunities for Alaska Native involvement in federal subsistence processes.
- Jay Hammond: Designates 2.6 million acres of existing federal wilderness located within the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve as the “Jay S. Hammond Wilderness”, named after former Governor Jay Hammond, a decorated World War II Marine Corps fighter pilot.
- Cultural Arts: Provides $500,000 to begin an arts and cultural program with Sealaska and the Institute of American Indian and Alaskan Native Culture and Arts Development.
- Sealaska Cultural Sites: Provides $450,000 for Alaska Native programs to certify claims for historical places and cultural sites.
- Gustavus Intertie: $7.45 million is included for construction of the Gustavus Intertie project in Southeast Alaska.
- Tribal General Assistance Program: Provides $65.5 million for the Tribal General Assistance program. In FY 2016, Senator Murkowski included language to authorize the backhaul program to operate though FY 2020. This year’s bill includes language to make the backhaul program permanent.
The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee controls funding levels for federal agencies and departments including the Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Forest Service (FS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Indian Health Service (IHS). Murkowski, as Chairman, is able to write the Senate’s annual appropriations bill for the Subcommittee.