Murkowski Leverages Chairmanship to Invest in Rural Alaska

Interior Appropriations Bill Directs Resources for Unique Alaskan Needs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced a series of provisions within the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to provide resources and support programs with significant impacts in communities across rural Alaska. As Chairman of this subcommittee, Murkowski was able to give Alaskans a strong voice as she crafted the bill. Their input led to full funding for the Native healthcare system, support for subsistence, resources for rural health clinics, and support for the tribal justice system. The bill was approved by the full Appropriations Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for final consideration.

“This bill fulfills federal trust responsibilities that are important to the lives of Alaska Natives and sustains critical infrastructure investments in rural communities. For example, it provides support to the health clinics in Savoonga and Gambell – which face challenges unknown to most Americans, operating in such a remote and unique area of Alaska,” said Senator Murkowski. “My bill provides additional funding for basic water and much-needed sewer projects. In addition, it allows for a continuation of the subsistence lifestyle so important for our Native people. Simply put, the resources contained in this bill empower Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans to live in safe, and healthy communities.”

The bill contains the following Alaska-specific items:

  • Alaska Native Villages Water Program (EPA): Provides funds for the construction of new drinking water and wastewater systems, or the improvement of existing systems in rural Alaskan communities. Last year, funds awarded through this program went to ten different projects that will improve water and sanitation services for over 1,000 Alaskan homes.
  • Village Built Clinics (IHS): Directs funding for Village Built Clinics, a program unique to Alaska that supports healthcare clinics in villages and rural areas.
  • Contract Support Costs: Fully funds the contract support 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 health care for Alaska Natives is directly provided by tribal organizations.
  • Zero Suicide Initiative: Increases funding for an IHS program aimed at preventing suicide by providing tools and support for organizations with patients receiving care. The initiative’s main belief is that suicide deaths for people receiving care are entirely preventable. In December 2015 the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium received training from the Zero Suicide program, providing tools and instructions for healthcare staff who treat and support suicidal patients.
  • Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative: Supports 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 focus on tribal youth and the incorporation of more holistic healthcare models to improve outcomes. 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: Supports IHS programs to address issues such as substance use disorders, mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related chronic diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Similar to the NUKA model at Southcentral Foundation, the program is a comprehensive system of care, which encourages community support and strong collaborative relationships with other agencies.
  • Small Ambulatory Clinics: Directs the Indian Health Service to fund the health clinics in Gambell and Savoonga. These health clinics provide critical services to Alaskans in two of the most remote areas of the state.
  • Tribal Court Funding (PL280): Provides Tribal Court funding to Public Law 280 states, such as Alaska, in order to help develop tribal court systems for communities.
  • Small and Needy Tribes: Provides direct support to ensure all tribes have a base level of support to run tribal governments.
  • Tiwahe Initiative: Provides increased funding for this program to help communities design a comprehensive approach for the delivery of social services and justice programs.
  • ANCSA Contaminated Lands: Requires completion of an inventory of contaminated Alaska Native lands in need of remediation and directs BLM to coordinate with all responsible federal agencies to clean lands up as soon as possible and find a long-term cleanup solution.
  • Polar Bear Concurrence Requirement: Directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to consult with the Alaska Nanuuq Commission before any regulations related to polar bears can be issued.
  • 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 (FS and FWS): Provides funds for the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct activities relating to the Federal Subsistence Board, and works 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: Provides additional funding for Alaska subsistence programs, extending critical pilot projects and ensuring additional opportunities for Alaska Native involvement in federal subsistence processes.
  • Sealaska Cultural Sites: Provides funding for Alaska Native programs to certify claims for historical places and cultural sites.

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee controls funding levels for federal agencies and departments such as 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.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska