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Tribal Leaders Meet to Discuss New Tax Law, Express Concerns on Implementation

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Tribal leaders from more than a dozen nations travelled to Florida to discuss their concerns over how the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department have and will handle administrative processes related to the implementation of the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act.

In September, President Barack Obama signed the GWE Act -- which protects tribal citizens from income taxation by the IRS of necessary benefits from tribal government programs, suspends all audits of tribal governments pending proper training by agents, and creates a Tribal Advisory Committee to advise the Treasury Department on tribal tax issues -- into law after it was unanimously passed by Congress.

“The Congress enacted the GWE Act to protect Indian people from continued harassment by the IRS. For years we have had to deal with IRS auditing threats simply because we provide benefits to improve the quality of life of our people,” Colley Billie, chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe, said in a news release.

But just last month, Treasury officials made it known that the Tribal Advisory Committee was being developed without help from tribal leaders, they did not clarify which burdensome federal regulations would apply to appointments to the Committee, and they revealed that appointees to the Committee might not be tribal leaders.

RELATED: Native Leaders Applaud Passage of Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act

Several tribal leaders who attended the tax summit expressed their thanks to Congressional members who pushed the act forward, but remained apprehensive.

“We thank the Congress and the sponsors of the GWE Act to help Indian people. We now must ensure that the Treasury Department fulfills Congressional intent in creating the Tribal Advisory Committee,” Robert Shepherd, chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, said in a news release. “Tribal nations know their peoples needs more than anyone else, so it is only common sense that tribal leaders be involved in the Tribal Advisory Committee.”

“We are grateful for the new GWE law,” said Lacey Horn, Cherokee Nation Treasurer. “We hope tribal leaders will be involved in the law’s implementation, as it directly affects our ability to positively impact the lives of our citizens.”

“The 184 member tribes of NIGA fought hard for the passage of this important legislation,” said Andy Ebona, NIGA Treasurer and Douglas Village, Tlingit Tribe member. “On behalf of Chairman [Ernie] Stevens and the NIGA Board, we are committed to ensuring the IRS carries out the intent of Congress and respects tribal sovereignty and tribal government welfare programs. After all, the final goal of this legislation is to ensure a better quality of life , and improving economic opportunities for all of our tribal citizens.”

Tribal leaders plan to convene in Washington D.C. on December 3 during the annual White House Tribal Summit to continue discussions on the issue.