Policy Brief – February 26, 2024

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Policy Brief Summary

This week Senate Agriculture Committee conducts an oversight hearing on the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as a witness. 

Two new federal register listings give notice for funding from the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and the USDA Rural Utilities Service. 

Nominations are open for the Invasive Species Advisory Committee which closes on April 27, 2024. 

On March 15, USDA Food and Nutrition Services will host an online-only Tribal consultation on two proposed rules (work requirements and EBT card technology). IFAI will host a Tribal caucus/briefing on these proposed rules on March 13 at 2:30 p.m., pre-register here. 

Tribal News this week includes articles highlighting Tribes’ push for self-governance authority at USDA and obstacles to that goal; the 2022 Census of Agriculture data (look for USDA to release Indian Country-specific reports later in 2024); the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Intertribal Agriculture Council’s carbon footprint calculator; Tribal meat processing policy initiatives; and a food waste program on the Umatilla Reservation.  

Congressional updates   

Looking Back

There were no Congressional hearings relating to Indigenous Food and Ag at the time of publication. 

Looking Ahead

Hearing: Senate Agriculture Committee– Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, time TBD (please check link for time) 

Topic: Oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture 

Witness: Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack

Executive Branch and Federal Agency Actions: 

The Biden-Harris Administration Launches Investing in Rural America Regional Event Series to Highlight How the President is Delivering for Rural Communities 

Nomination opportunities: 

What is the nomination for? Secure Rural Schools Resource Advisory Committee  

Description: The advisory committee will advise the Secretary of Agriculture on Title II projects that provide critical funding for schools, roads, and other municipal services to more than 700 counties across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The committee will serve for two years unless renewed by the Secretary.   

Deadline for submission? March 17, 2024 

 What is the nomination for? Invasive Species Advisory Committee  

Description: The Committee will serve to advise the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) on interdepartmental coordination, planning, and leadership for the Federal Government on the prevention, eradication, and control of invasive species.  

Deadline for submission? April 27, 2024  

Regulatory/Rulemaking actions:


Agency: USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBCS) 

Action: Notice of Funding Opportunity for Rural Energy for America Program Technical Assistance Grant Program for Fiscal Year 2024; Applications due March 15, 2024 

Why it matters: Funding available to Agricultural Producers and Tribal entities that assist with projects located in a Disadvantaged Community or a Distressed Community, support projects using Underutilized Renewable Energy Technologies (“Underutilized Technologies”), and/or support grant applications of $20,000 or less.  

Posted: Week of February 27. 

Agency: USDA Rural Utilities Service  

Action: Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Rural eConnectivity Program; Applications open March 22, 2024, and close April 22, 2024.  

Why it matters: The Rural Utilities Service announces acceptance of applications under the Rural eConnectivity (Reconnect) program that will award loan and grant funds to qualified applicants to fund the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service. Applications can be submitted through the RUS online application. Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted. 

Posted: Week of February 27. 

Agency: USDA Food and Nutrition Service 

Action: OMB Review Comments Request about Recordkeeping for Employment and Training Program Activity Report by March 18, 2024. 

Why it matters: FNS will review Information collected through Employment and Training funding requests to ensure that States are running SNAP efficiently and economically. FNS will reallocate unexpended funds to State agencies as appropriate and applicable.  

Posted: Week of February 19. 

Agency: DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs 

Action: Notice of Submission Deadline for Applications to Participate in Tribal Self-Governance Program; the submission deadline is March 1, 2024. 

Why it matters: The Secretary of the Interior may select not more than 50 new Indian Tribes per year to begin participation in the tribal self-governance program.  

Posted: Week of February 12. 

Agency: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) 

Action: Proposed Revisions to the National Handbook of Conservation Practices for NRCS; Comments requested by March 4, 2024.  

Why it matters: NRCS is providing an opportunity for the public to provide comments on revisions to the conservation practice standards in the National Handbook of Conservation Practices. NRCS is proposing revisions to conservation practice standards such as Field Border (Code 386), Grazing Management (Code 528), and Wetland Restoration (Code 657). This has been a priority for the Regional Tribal Conservation Advisory Council.  

Posted: Week of February 12. 

Agency: USDA Office of the Secretary 

Action: Notice of the Semiannual Regulatory Agenda for Fall of 2023 

Why it matters: This semiannual agenda provides a summary of significant and non-significant regulations being developed in USDA. This provides an opportunity for Tribal Nations and organizations to monitor federal regulations that may impact Tribal food and agriculture.  

Posted: Week of February 12.  

Agency: DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs  

Action: Comments Requested on Proposed Rate Adjustments for Indian Irrigation Projects; Comments requested by April 8, 2024. 

Why it matters: The Bureau of Indian Affairs has to establish irrigation assessment rates to recover the costs of administering, operating, maintaining, and rehabilitating irrigation projects. This notice affects those who own or lease land within the assessable acreage of one of BIA’s irrigation projects or those who have a carriage agreement with one of BIA’s irrigation projects. Rate adjustments will be effective for the 2024 calendar year.  

Posted: Week of February 12.  

Tribal Consultation and Listening Sessions/Advisory Committee Meetings:

Title of Event: Improving Indian Affairs Methodology used to calculate facilities Operation and Maintenance funding allocations. 

About: Indian Affairs is requesting input from Tribes on the factors that impact the costs of Operating and Maintaining a facility which should be considered for a new O&M allocation methodology. Some examples of factors that IA is considering include gross square feet (GSF), location (nearest reference city), type of facility, and age of facility. The factors are being considered to improve the allocation of funding and are not related to the total need for funding requested in annual budgets. 

Date: Session 1: Tuesday, March 5th, 2024 Session 2: Thursday, March 7th, 2024 

Time: 11:00 am- 12:00 pm ET 

Location: Online.

Title of Event: March 2024 SNAP Consultation – Proposed Rules on Work Requirements and EBT Card Security Measures 

About: USDA Food & Nutrition Services will hold a Tribal consultation concerning two proposed rules possibly impacting Tribal nations that will (1) update SNAP work requirements to match the ones laid out in the law by Congress in 2023 (Public Law 118-5) and (2) reduce stolen SNAP benefits and fraud by proposing changes in existing regulations that will modernize EBT technology.  

Dates: Friday, March 15, 2024 

Time: 1-3 p.m. EST 

Location: Online only, must register here. 

Link: For the Dear Tribal Leader invitation, proxy letter template and updated scheduling information, please see the ‘Upcoming Tribal Consultations’ section of the Office of Tribal Relations Website here.

Tribal Caucus: IFAI will facilitate a Tribal Caucus on March 13 at 2:30 p.m. CST to brief Tribes of the provisions on these two rules on March 12, pre-registration is required. 

Court Decisions:   

 No relevant court cases at the time of print.

Tribal News:

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Subcommittees collaborate on diet simulations for diverse populations Food Navigator  

  • The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s review and report sets dietary standards for programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies. 
  • Dr. Valerie Blue Bird Jernigan (Choctaw Nation) is the first Native American to serve on this committee, where she identified the need to conduct research and study into American Indian and Alaska Native people. Because of Dr. Jernigan’s work, a pilot study will help identify traditional foods and help implement these findings into the dietary guidelines and federal programs. 

Tribal Nations are Taking Back Their Food SystemsMother Jones 

  • Tribal Self-Determination and Self-Governance within USDA – Food Nutrition Service (FNS) has allowed Tribes to purchase local and often Tribally-produced foods for their nutrition programs, distributing those foods then to those participating in food programs.  
  • This has increased local markets for Tribal producers. However, the next Farm Bill will determine the inclusion and or expansion of programs like the “638” Food Distribution Program on Reservations (FDPIR) pilot project.  
  • By revitalizing its food system, the tribe can help its people physically reconnect to their land and culture and recover from the historical trauma caused by federal policies. 
  • To create truly meaningful change, the farm bill should go beyond the pilot program, argues Jay Spaan, the executive director of the Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium. 
  • Federal agencies have often been somewhat hesitant, at the start, to enter into such agreements with tribes, says Spaan, who senses this reluctance, now, from the USDA. “Agencies are always, like, ‘Oh, I don’t know how the tribes could do this,’” Spaan says. He finds this sort of resistance “hilarious,” since tribes are already operating other multi-million-dollar programs, including huge health systems, through agreements with other federal agencies—“I’m pretty sure they can administer SNAP.” 


What the Latest Farm Census Says about the Changing Ag LandscapeCivil Eats 

  • Just like in Indian Country, across the nation, the latest Census of Agriculture stats reveal a trend for a decrease in the number of farms while the remaining farms increased in acreage.  
  • Other general Census of Agriculture highlights in the article include the ages of first-time farmers and agriculturalists increasing and jumps in renewable energy and conservation practices. 
  • More Indian Country-centric data will be available from the Ag Census in June and August. 

Umatilla tribes to launch food waste reduction project in northeast Oregon reservationOregon Public Broadcasting  

  • The Umatilla Tribe’s campaign Nixyáawii, Don’t Throw it Away! sets to help the Tribe calculate its food waste and develop methods to reduce overall waste. The pilot project, funded in part through a USDA grant, will also allow the Tribe to offer education and resources through the Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources. 
  • Additionally, the Tribe plans to install a biodigester to create methane gas for cooking and fertilizer to help the Tribe’s community garden. 
  • “The two-year pilot project has a lot of potential, and it could be used as a template to expand into other communities within the reservation and ultimately change the community’s perception of food.”  

From the Field – Meat Processing Technical Assistance SuccessNational Sustainable Agriculture Coalition  

  • Through the past few years, federal programs have helped Tribes establish, expand, and update meat processing facilities to better serve their people and communities.  
  • Technical assistance through the Meat and Poultry Processing Technical Assistance (MPPTA) network has and can help Tribes and Tribal citizens access programs and navigate processes, including business planning, food safety and inspection preparation, and more. 
  • “MPPTA has received over 1100+ TA requests in its short two years of existence.” 

Find out your carbon footprint with this calculator Ground Report 

    • IFAI’s partners at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Intertribal Agriculture Council have developed a calculator to help the public determine their carbon footprint.