On Wednesday, Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin announced key economic development initiatives at the White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior. The fourth annual conference brought together leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes, the President, and several senior Administration officials to discuss ways to strengthen the government to government relationship with Indian Country.
As the President noted in his remarks, a focus of the Administration is “to drill down on … expanding economic opportunity for Native Americans.” To that end, the Deputy Secretary outlined several Treasury proposals created in consultation with tribal leaders that build upon the Administration’s commitment to finding unique solutions that work for Indian Country.
Deputy Secretary Wolin announced new proposed guidance that clarifies certain benefits that Indian tribal governments provide to tribal members are excluded from income for purposes of taxation. Indian tribes have developed a range of programs to address theirunique social, cultural, and economic issues and the new guidance seeks to provide certainty on what benefits fall under the general welfare exclusionfrom income. This includes a wide range of benefits—such as assistance with utility bills, tuition payments, and assistance for the elderly. Treasury developed this guidance in consultation with tribal leaders who helped ensure that it addressed the needs of Indian tribes.
The Deputy Secretary also shared other measures Treasury has taken to help with economic development in tribal nations. In July, the Treasury Department announced new procedures for the reallocation of Tribal Economic Development Bonds. These bonds are a way to spur development on tribal lands, but they have been difficult to access considering that many tribes have faced continued difficulty in financial markets since the crisis. The Deputy Secretary noted that “a good deal of the original authority for these bonds remains unspent, we’ve made a number of changes to the process, such as allocating funds immediately for approved projects, instead of waiting for a certain date.”
In addition, Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) currently is requesting comments for a new study that will address the challenges of access to capital in Native Communities. The CDFI Fund aims to increase economic opportunity and promote community development investments for underserved populations and in distressed communities in the United States, including tribal communities. The Deputy Secretary explained why this study is important to Treasury’s work:
“This study on credit needs in Native American communities will help us understand where the needs for investment lie, and how we can enhance CDFI’s Native Initiatives, so that they can provide as much opportunity as possible in Native communities.
These studies are tremendously important—the first study on access to capital in Native communities in 2001 led to the creation of the Native CDFI program. That’s why I encourage all of you to provide input—the more we hear from you, the more valuable the study will be. The CDFI program staff are engaging in consultation beginning this week.”
In conjunction with Wednesday’s event, the White House released a report, “Continuing the Progress in Tribal Communities,” that examines the President’s agenda and other ways that this Administration, by working together with tribes, has made a difference for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Administration’s commitment to tribal consultation and collaboration is reflected in each of the areas of progress addressed in the report. As Senior PolicyAdvisor for Native American Affairs on the White House Domestic Policy Council Jodi Gillette noted in a White House blog, “we know there is still much more work to do, and we look forward to the continued partnership with tribal governments in the months and years ahead,” and Treasury looks forward to being there every step of the way.
Sabrina Siddiqui is the Spokesperson for Tax, Budget and Economic Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.