U.S. Senators Tina Smith, John Hoeven Introduce Legislation to Improve Key Native American Food Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. [7.26.23] – This week, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to make the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) work better for Tribal communities.

FDPIR provides food assistance for income-eligible Native households. In 2018, the Farm Bill reauthorization created a pilot program to allow self-governance contracting for procurement within FDPIR. The bipartisan FDPIR Tribal Food Sovereignty Act expands and makes that pilot program permanent. If enacted, the bill would allow Tribal governments to administer FDPIR for their community.

“Every Native American community should have access to nutritious and culturally specific food,” said Smith. “This bipartisan bill will strengthen local food economies, empower Tribal governments, and provide healthy food to those who need it. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this passed as part of the Farm Bill.”

“This legislation is part of our broader efforts to promote Tribal self-governance and builds upon the pilot program I worked to include in the 2018 farm bill,” said Hoeven. “Our bill will not only give Tribes greater control over this important nutrition program, helping ensure that assistance gets to those who need it most, but will allow food to be sourced from more local producers, supporting the local economy.”

Federal food programs are vital in many Native communities, with approximately 25 percent of Native Americans receiving some type of federal food assistance. In some Tribal communities, participation is as high as 80 percent.

Self-governance authority allows Tribal governments to administer federal programs within their own communities—it is widely regarded as one of the most effective federal policies for Tribes.  Self-governance policies make federal dollars work better to address the unique needs of Tribal communities.  In 2018, the Farm Bill included the first ever self-governance expansion to USDA, with a pilot program that gave Tribes authority to buy food directly from commercial vendors – many of them within their own Tribes and communities –  within the FDPIR program. Expanding self-governance at USDA will allow Tribes to build food systems to address food insecurity, increase access to Indigenous foods, and support strong Tribal economies.