Sen. Tina Smith Introduces Bill to Allow Tribal Governments to Determine How Programs to Combat Hunger Best Serve Indian Country

WASHINGTON D.C. [06/12/18]—Ahead of this week’s first Senate consideration of the Farm Bill, Senator Tina Smith—a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee—introduced legislation to allow tribes in Minnesota and across the country to have more control over how federal hunger programs are administered in their communities.

Sen. Smith said her measure would give tribal governments a more active role in the administration of the USDA’s vital Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as SNAP). Her bill would help make sure SNAP is administered in a culturally-appropriate way that promotes the health and economic well-being of tribal communities. Federal programs to combat hunger like SNAP are important to tribal communities. Approximately 25 percent of Native Americans receive some type of federal food assistance, and in some tribal communities, participation is as high as 80 percent.

Sen. Smith’s Tribal Food Sovereignty Act would extend self-governance to SNAP, and you can access a summary of the legislation here and full text of the bill here.

“If we’re going to make sure Americans aren’t going hungry on tribal lands, strengthen local food economies, and incorporate indigenous food in this effort, we need to empower tribal governments to determine how SNAP is designed to best serve them,” said Sen. Smith. “I’ve introduced this legislation so tribal governments can make those decisions when it comes to combatting hunger in Indian Country.”

“American Indians and Alaskan Natives know what’s best for their own communities, and on issues of food security and nutrition, it’s especially important that Tribes have the opportunity to translate their knowledge into action,” said Sen. Udall. “This important legislation will promote tribal self-governance by allowing Tribes to administer federal food programs in a way that meets the unique needs of their communities and bolsters the long-term health of Indian Country.”

In addition to Sens. Smith and Udall, this legislation is also supported by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). SNAP tribal sovereignty has been a top priority for the Native Farm Bill Coalition and other leaders in Indian Country. Sen. Smith has also offered her legislation as an amendment to the Farm Bill. 

“Shakopee and other tribes across Indian Country have insisted that tribal food sovereignty must mean tribal control over federally-funded food assistance programs on tribal lands,” said Keith Anderson, Vice Chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and co-chair of the Native Farm Bill Coalition.“The ‘638’ amendment and this legislation, offered by Senator Smith and supported by Senator Udall, would authorize exactly what we have asked—tribal self-determination in the administration of SNAP and other food assistance programs that benefit tribal members. We appreciate the work of Senators Udall (D-NM), Smith (D-MN), and others in championing this important priority of the Native Farm Bill Coalition,” said Anderson. “And now we will join with them in an effort to persuade their Senate colleagues that tribal ‘638’ will result in more people being fed better food.”

You can access a summary of the legislation here and full text of the bill here.