Tester: We must do more to address the youth suicide epidemic in Indian Country

(U.S. Senate)—Senator Jon Tester, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, today held a committee hearing on efforts to prevent youth suicide in Indian Country.
During the hearing, Tester heard from administration and tribal leaders about the lack of resources accessible to Native American youth struggling with mental health issues.
“Unfortunately, this year it seems like Congress can provide more spending for Defense budgets, but we can’t put more resources towards saving the lives of native youth,” Tester said.  “To say that this is troubling doesn’t even begin to characterize the situation.”
Native Americans have the highest suicide rate of any ethnic group in the United States, and Native American youth commit suicide at twice the rate of their non-Native peers.
Currently, IHS only employs 0.44 mental health providers per 100,000 Native American youths and only 1.3 percent of the total clinical service budget for IHS is allocated for mental health services. 
Earlier this month the Senate passed two Tester-backed bills that will increase safety and provide additional resources for children in Indian Country.
Press Release, Jon Tester


Tester urges for quick reauthorization as Native American Housing grant initiative advances through the U.S. House of Representatives

Press Release, U.S. Senator for Montana Jon Tester

(U.S. SENATE)—Senator Jon Tester released the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), an initiative that awards block grants for tribes and tribal housing authorities in order to make investments in housing in Native American communities.
“Today we are a step closer to addressing the lack of housing in Indian Country, and it’s critical the Senate now reauthorize these initiatives as quickly as possible,” Tester said.  “There is nothing that impacts Native American communities more than the absence of housing.  I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate on this reauthorization which helps address the acute housing needs in Indian Country.”
Last week Tester, Vice Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, pushed to increase the resources for Native American housing during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.
Through NAHASDA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development grants funds to tribes and tribal housing authorities to construct, acquire, or modernize housing for low income families. These funds represent the main source of housing assistance in Indian Country.

Tester Takes a Hard Look at Disaster Relief in Indian Country

Indian Affairs Committee Assesses Impact of Amendments to the Stafford Act
Source: United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
U.S. SENATE – At a hearing today on the state of disaster response in Indian Country, Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs had one message: more work needs to be done.
Tester authored changes to the Stafford Act in the last Congress that allow federally-recognized Indian tribes to directly request a Presidential disaster or emergency declaration through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Before the change, tribes were required to make requests through their State governors.
“After listening to the needs of Indian Country, I changed the Stafford Act to allow tribes to request a disaster declaration directly from the President,” Tester said.  “While that was an important step for tribes, there is more work that needs to be done”
Hearing witnesses echoed Tester’s sentiment in their testimony.
Ronda Metcalf of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribal Council, sought more coordinated responses among relief agencies, “The tribe understands that on-the-ground personnel in these disaster response situations face significant challenges and pressures. This is all the more reason why FEMA must better coordinate with Indian tribes to provide accurate information and improved delivery of services.  FEMA must also provide closer supervision over organizations like the Red Cross to ensure that they are properly carrying out services for which they seek FEMA reimbursement.”
Matt Gregory, Executive Director of Risk Management for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, spoke about concerns many tribes have over the damage threshold for federal support.   “The Stafford Act set $1 million in damage as its threshold for applying for a declaration. This may not work well for a tribe like the Choctaw Nation, with small communities spread out over a wide rural area.  We are faced with a number of disasters throughout the year, and without quick and specific direction, our new-found Stafford Act authority lacks some practical effect.”
Jake Heflin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Tribal Emergency Management Association, said, “When a catastrophe strikes, the Federal response to natural disasters in Indian Country is slow, tedious, and in significant need of a comprehensive overhaul.   Despite providing pre-disaster support, technical assistance, and planning before a disaster strikes, at the time of the incident, FEMA steps away from tribes until monetary thresholds are met by the disaster. Even when FEMA responds to a disaster, FEMA does not support the tribes operationally.”  
One of the many tribes facing the long-term effects of climate change induced disasters is the Santa Clara Pueblo.  Their Governor, J. Michael Chavarria said, “Given the realities of life in the Southwestern United States and the increasing effects of climate change, disaster relief policies must be shifted to focus on long-term response such as addressing Santa Clara’s post-fire, periodic flooding, which will remain a great hazard to our well-being for perhaps a decade.”
Mary David, Executive Vice President of Kawerak, Inc., a tribal consortium in the Bering Strait region of Alaska said, “The impacts of global climate change, severe arctic storms and arctic shipping on marine life is of high concern.  The Stafford Act is a response when a disaster happens, which is important.  But due to changing climate conditions, our communities are in imminent danger and preventative measures are needed.”
Tester concluded that better coordination between FEMA and the tribes must occur. “For this to be an effective partnership, FEMA must understand the unique needs of Indian Country.  Based on what I heard today, some progress has been made, but there is a lot more work to be done and we’re going to get it done.”
The President can issue major disaster declarations after a natural disaster to provide certain types of federal disaster assistance depending upon the specific needs of the stricken areas.  Such declarations give broad authority to federal agencies to provide supplemental assistance to help state, local, territorial and tribal governments, families and individuals, and certain nonprofit organizations, recover from the incident.

Tester Aims to Fight Homelessness Among Native Veterans

 A homeless veteran who declined to be identified speaks with an outreach worker, not pictured, under an overpass during a winter storm in Philadelphia, Wednesday, January 26, 2011.
A homeless veteran who declined to be identified speaks with an outreach worker, not pictured, under an overpass during a winter storm in Philadelphia, Wednesday, January 26, 2011.


Source: Jon Tester’s Office Release


Senator Jon Tester is helping to launch a new initiative to fight homelessness among Native American veterans.

Native Americans volunteer for America’s military at some of the highest rates in the nation, but Indian veterans often struggle to get the support services they earn – including safe, affordable housing.

Tester, Montana’s only member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Indian Affairs Committees, is working to change that by helping to add a provision to a funding bill that calls for new initiative to reduce homelessness on tribal lands.

Tester’s initiative would make HUD-VASH funds – which help veterans find housing arrangements where they also are able to receive additional resources to address the root causes of homelessness – available to Native Americans living on tribal lands. It is estimated that at least 2,000 veterans served by VA homeless programs live on tribal lands.

“Native Americans are some of this nation’s most dedicated military men and women, and they shouldn’t have to struggle with homelessness when their service is over,” Tester said. “This initiative will help more veterans get a roof over their heads and the support they need to get back on their feet and contribute to our communities.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides the housing vouchers through the HUD-VASH program and works with local housing and support groups to provide eligible homeless veterans with services that aid recovery from physical and mental health conditions resulting from homelessness. However, tribally-designated housing entities are currently ineligible to receive and administer these vouchers.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Tester pushed for HUD-VASH funds to be made available to tribal housing authorities to assist Native American veterans in securing safe, reliable housing. The committee is responsible for funding the federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tester became the Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee earlier this year. Since then, he has held hearings on Indian health, tribal transportation, Indian education, energy development, and trust lands.

The funding bill, which passed the Appropriations Committee recently, will next be considered by the full Senate.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/06/11/tester-aims-fight-homelessness-among-native-veterans-155242