Murkowski Secures Funding for Rural Alaska

Interior Appropriations Bill Provides Resources for Meeting Alaskan Needs

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced a series of provisions within the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2019 to provide resources and support to programs with significant provisions to benefit communities across rural Alaska and for Alaska Natives. As Chairman of this subcommittee, Murkowski constructed a bill that improves water and wastewater systems in rural Alaska, supports subsistence, provides resources for rural health facilities, and includes funding for the tribal justice system. The full Appropriations Committee approved the bill through a historic, unanimous vote. It will now head to the Senate floor for final consideration. 

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done on this bill to support and empower our rural Alaskan communities. These investments are significant to the lives of Alaska Natives, supporting subsistence and sustaining critical infrastructure in our communities. My interior bill places a high priority on improving the standard of living in rural Alaska by creating new water and wastewater systems and further developing healthcare facilities,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m encouraged by the bipartisan support this bill has to invest in the health and well-being of our people.”

(Note: Numbers are nationwide program funding levels.) 

Health and Wellness

  • Fighting Opioids: The bill establishes a new grant program through IHS which provides $10 million to help tribes fight back against opioid abuse, $7.5 million is continued through BIA to fight opioid addiction. To help address the problem of opioid over-prescription, language is included requiring a report on both federal and tribal pharmacy compliance with state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.
  • Village Built Clinics: Increases funding to $15 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.
  • Small Ambulatory Clinics: Provides a $10 million increase, totaling $15 million, to make infrastructure improvements across the nation for providing healthcare delivery to American Indians and Alaska Natives. This year grants have been provide for Shishmaref, Ninilchik, New Kongiganak Village, Tok, and Tatitlek. 
  • Contract Support Costs: Fully funds support 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: Maintains funding at $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 main belief is that suicide deaths for people receiving care are entirely preventable.
  • Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative: Maintains funding at $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 $245.6 million, a $7.4 million increase, to IHS alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs, 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 and Facilities: Increases funding to $10 million to help facilitate integrated approaches between medical care, behavioral health, and tribal community organizations to provide the entire spectrum of preventative care to improve outcomes in mental health, substance abuse, and physical ailments. Includes new funding, $5 million, for demonstration projects for health facilities pursuant to Indian Health Care Improvement Act. 

Tribal Justice

  • Tribal Court Funding (PL280): Maintains Tribal Court $13 million in funding to Public Law 280 states, such as Alaska, in order to help develop tribal court systems for communities.
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Maintains $2 million for training and specific VAWA tribal court needs. 
  • Small and Needy Tribes: Maintains direct funding of $4.4 million to ensure all tribes have a base level of support to run tribal governments. Alaska receives nearly 90% of this funding.
  • Tiwahe Initiative: Maintains $14 million in funding for the 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 Emmonak Women’s shelter also receives funding through this program.

Air, Water, and Wastewater

  • Alaska Native Villages Water Program: Increases funding to $25 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: Provides $30 million, a $10 million increase, for a grant program to help bring basic water and sewer to communities in need.
  • Small Remote Incinerators: Language is included to prohibit the EPA from prohibiting small, remote incinerators in Alaska while Alaskans work with the EPA to develop a rule that will work better to address Alaska’s rural, unique needs. 
  • Diesel Particulate Filters in Rural Alaska: Includes language directing the EPA to re-examine its rule requiring diesel particulate filters on Tier III engines in rural Alaska and encourages them to exempt those filters from the requirement.

Land and Subsistence

  • Contaminated Lands: Dozens of exploration wells and core tests that were drilled decades ago remain abandoned in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. This bill provides $9.5 million for legacy well cleanup, and further directs the Bureau of Land Management to craft a long-term funding plan to complete the clean-up of the wells within ten years. Also directs BLM to coordinate with all responsible federal agencies to implement a long-term solution to comprehensive cleanup of contaminated Alaska Native lands. 
  • Alaska Land Conveyance: Includes funds to fulfill requirements to transfer lands to the State and Native Alaskans under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), by providing $22 million for Alaska Land Conveyance.
  • Alaska Subsistence: Maintains funds at $2.5 million 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: Maintains funding at $11.2 million for subsistence programs, extending critical pilot projects and ensuring additional opportunities for Alaska Native involvement in federal subsistence processes. Also includes support for Ahtna and Kuskokwim subsistence pilot projects.
  • Polar Bear Co-Management: Directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to work and engage in meaningful consultation with Alaska Natives for their subsistence use of polar bears, including incorporating traditional knowledge. 
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA): The bill includes $43 million for the NAWCA, an increase of $3 million, to help increase bird populations and wetlands habitat.  NAWCA is a popular program among sportsmen and bird watchers.
  • Arctic Council: Includes $550,000 to support the Arctic Council and directs federal agencies to focus on economic opportunities in the region, as well as science and subsistence issues.

Native Arts and Culture

  • Arts and Cultural Program: Includes $1 million to continue an arts and cultural program started last year with SeaAlaska and the Institute of American Indian and Alaskan Native Culture and Arts Development (IAIA).
  • Native Handicrafts: Encourages the Fish and Wildlife Service to do more to ensure that native handicrafts can continue to be sold.
  • Sealaska Cultural Sites: Maintains funding of $450,000 for Alaska Native programs to certify claims for historical places and cultural sites.
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Increased funding is provided to support the arts through NEA and NEH, including support for NEA’s the Healing Arts Program, developed by the NEA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to help our nation’s wounded and injured service members and their families in their transition into civilian life.

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.