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Begich Rolls Up His Sleeves, Gets to Work Solving Housing Shortages in Rural Alaska

Puts Federal Resources to Critical Operations, Not Wasteful Programs

Following his first meeting as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee today, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich took immediate steps to ensure that limited federal resources are used wisely and diligently on essential operations and programs. Begich introduced two bills to assist Alaska communities in obtaining the resources they need to maintain critical community activities and services like education, housing, and health care delivery.

Begich announced the first bill during a speech to the National Indian Education Association.  It will help address housing shortages in rural Alaska communities that create challenges to retaining high-quality teachers, law enforcement professionals and health providers.

The Rural Educator and American Community Housing Act (REACH) will provide $50 million to build housing and improve living arrangements for educators, public safety officers and medical providers working in rural communities. Groups like Indian tribes and tribal organizations, tribally designated housing entities, local education organizations, local governments, and state and local housing authorities will be eligible to apply.

Funds can be used can be used for:

  • Payment of interest on housing loans;
  • Repayment of loans made to build or improve housing;
  • Purchasing or leasing property on which housing will be built, modernized or repaired; or
  • Other activities involving construction, modernization, renovation and repair of housing units

Begich’s second bill will help move some Alaska tribes and those in the Lower 48 one step closer to resolving underpaid contract support costs by the Indian Health Services (IHS). Begich’s Day in Court  bill says certain past claims made by the IHS shall be considered timely and further requires tribes to be paid these vital funds to help them carry out critical community functions like operating hospitals and clinics, administering public service programs, running police departments, and carrying out other activities such as education, housing, and land and resource management.

“This important legislation will finally give Southcentral Foundation our day in court to settle past claims over contract support costs that have been underpaid by the Indian Health Service,” said Southcentral Foundation President/CEO Katherine Gottlieb.  

Co-sponsors of Begich’s IHS bill are Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana. Sen. Begich introduced a nearly identical bill in the 112th Congress. A companion version of Begich’s bill was introduced last year in the House by Rep. Don Young, where it was co-sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of Representatives which included Reps. Dan Boren and Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

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