Congress Passes Historic Infrastructure Package Which Includes Significant Funding for Native Communities
Late last Friday, after months of delay, the House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a historic, more than $1 trillion spending bill that puts more than $550 billion into transportation projects, the utility grid, and broadband; $110 billion into roads, bridges, and other major projects; $66 billion into passenger and freight rail; and $39 billion into public transit. The Senate passed the legislation in August by a vote of 69-30 and the House approved it by a vote of 228-206.
The legislation is now awaiting President Biden’s signature, which White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said will happen shortly after Congress returns to session, which could happen as soon as next week. That will allow members of Congress who worked on the legislation to attend a signing ceremony.
The legislation also includes substantial funding—more than $11 billion—specifically for Native communities to address water and sanitation, broadband, climate and energy resilience, transportation, Indian water settlements, new energy technology, mine and well cleanup, drought and wildfire mitigation, and ecosystem restoration.
“More than $11 billion for Native communities will help build new and update existing infrastructure,” said Senate Indian Affairs Committee Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “Strong federal investment is critical to fulfilling our trust and treaty obligations to Native communities.”
“This bipartisan infrastructure bill is one of the most consequential legislative efforts I have worked on in my Senate career,” said Senate Indian Affairs Committee Vice-Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “I am incredibly humbled to have played a leading role in the creation of this legislation.”
“I fought for and championed resources for Native Americans throughout the lengthy negotiations to ensure the Federal government upholds its trust and treaty obligations,” Murkowski continued. “Through this bipartisan legislation, many Native communities will be able to address the long-standing needs many other Americans take for granted, including water and sanitation and transportation access.”
“The bill also provides resources for planning and development to adapt to climate change impacts, reduce wildfire risks, reduce the deferred maintenance of irrigation, power and water systems, and build out rural broadband,” Murkowski continued. “I want to thank the many Alaskans, including Tribal leaders, organizations, and stakeholders, who worked with me in writing provisions that address the needs of our urban, rural, and Native communities.”
The bill provides $3.5 billion in financial and technical assistance to Native communities through Indian Health Service (IHS) for the construction of safe water, wastewater, and solid waste systems. It also funds congressionally authorized Indian water settlements to allow tribes to pursue authorized projects to access and develop their water resources.
For climate change, the bill provides $216 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Climate Resilience Program for project planning, development, and community relocation. It also provides $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and $2.9 billion for the Tribal Transportation Program.
Additionally, the bill includes $250 million for construction and repair of irrigation and power systems and other facilities. It also invests in forest restoration and community defense grants to reduce wildfire risks, as well as provides firefighter training to Native Village crews and Native Youth Public Land Corps.
The legislation is the first of two bills at the core of President Biden’s legislative agenda. Negotiations are still continuing on a larger, $1.75 trillion spending bill.
After the legislation was passed, Biden said the legislation would “create millions of jobs, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity, and put us on a path to win the economic competition for the 21st century.”