Tester Introduces Bill to Give Tribes Access to Emergency Resources

After Tribes Were Denied Federal Funds During Historic Winter Storms, Tester Pushes to Change FEMA Laws

(U.S. Senate) – After a brutal winter that forced school closures and food shortages, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today introduced legislation to give Native American Tribes access to life-saving emergency services.

Despite getting more than 100 inches of snow in areas this winter, Montana’s tribal governments were unable to secure the necessary emergency resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because of the agency’s stringent rules. Tester’s bill reforms FEMA’s rules and allows the agency to issue emergency funds and services to tribal governments during and after severe winter storms.

“Hundreds of folks in Indian Country were stranded in remote areas without food, heat, or transportation this winter,” Tester said. “FEMA has a responsibility to help every American when natural disasters strike and they are in desperate need. My bill holds FEMA accountable and guarantees that Native American communities will now have access to life-saving emergency services during historic winter storms.”

The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, along with Blackfeet Reservation and Northern Cheyenne Reservation received more snow than almost any year on record and were declared a State of Emergency by the Governor.

“Winter storms at Fort Belknap were severe, bringing heavy snowfall, freezing rain, high winds and extreme below-zero temperatures,” said Andrew Werk, President of Fort Belknap. “The results brought reservation wide-power outages, impassible roadways, livestock loss, and most devastating loss of human life-three deaths due to the inclement weather conditions. The Fort Belknap Indian Community Council supports the passage of Senator Tester’s bill.”

Tester personally spoke with FEMA Administrator Brock Long in February as a severe winter storm dumped more than 80 inches of snow in Browning. Long told Tester that the agency could only administer funds according to the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

The Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act does not currently provide FEMA with the authority to administer critical resources to a tribal government during a severe winter storm unless it is declared a major disaster by the President.

Tester’s bill reforms the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to include snow removal, salting, search and rescue, sheltering, and other emergency protective measures to Indian Tribes during and after a severe winter storm.