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Chris James
National Center

On Tuesday, I had the honor of visiting the White House for the signing of the CHIPS and Science Act. The sweeping legislation represents an historic investment - $280 billion in total - in America’s high-tech manufacturing capabilities. The CHIPS and Science Act is a needed response to the supply chains shocks stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the major decrease in semiconductor manufacturing. For many, the semiconductor shortage – and the near-impossibility of finding a new car or appliance – was a wake-up call that we cannot outsource critical industries vulnerable to global shutdowns.

More broadly, the enactment of the CHIPS and Science Act was the latest in a long line of historic investments in Indian Country made by this Congress and President Biden. The bill allocates grant money specifically for tribal colleges and minority-serving institutions to ensure that tomorrow’s high- tech manufacturing workforce reflects the diversity of the country. Despite often being funded well below other colleges and universities, these institutions do a remarkable job of serving tribal members and helping them meet their career goals. The CHIPS and Science Act will help reduce the funding gap that tribal colleges bridge have long endured.

Including Indian Country in the CHIPS and Science Act is not a fluke or one-off initiative. The American Rescue Plan, passed just a few weeks into President Biden’s term, included $1.75 billion dedicated specifically to tribes and Native entities. It was a recognition that our community suffered greatly from the pandemic and has unique - and enormous - economic and public health needs.

Last summer, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dedicated a whopping $13 billion to Indian Country. The legislation will make a real difference in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, and we are already starting to see these investments pay off.

Where the money is going is indicative of the steep challenges many reservations and tribes face. Nearly half of the funding is dedicated to building infrastructure for clean and safe drinking water. These investments are going to build the type of infrastructure that most Americans take for granted but unfortunately is too often lacking in our most vulnerable communities.

$2 billion of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is allocated to ensuring that every Native American and Alaska Native has access to reliable high-speed internet. We’re now well into the third decade of the 21st Century, yet still many native communities lack access to reliable and high-speed internet – a virtual economic death sentence. Expanded investments in high-speed internet will help put tribes on equal footing with their competitors in other parts of the country.

$4 billion is dedicated to traditional infrastructure like the roads and bridges that have long been in disrepair. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act makes significant down payments in climate resilience and mitigation for places on the front lines of effects of climate change – and in communities whose livelihoods and histories are closely tied to land, water, fish, and other wildlife.

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The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed the Senate on Sunday, and the House Friday, doubles down on climate resilience in Native communities. The bill allocates an additional $272.5 million to Native communities for climate resilience and adaptation, including drought mitigation, tribal fish hatcheries, home electrification, tribal energy loans, and an increase in tribal energy loan guarantees. President Biden is expected to sign it in the coming days.

For many years our community was an afterthought when it came to major federal investments. We were lucky to get scraps, much less dedicated and robust funding streams to meet the needs of Indian Country. Thanks to Congressional leadership and President Biden, the paradigm in Washington, D.C. is shifting.

Of course, there’s still work to be done. For one, we have to make sure money actually makes it into the communities for which it is intended – and do so without delay. This is no time to let bureaucratic red tape get in the way of delivering needed investment in underserved communities. In addition, the Biden Administration and Congress must focus more attention and tribal consultation on increasing access to capacity building and capital investment dedicated specifically for start-ups and expanding native businesses; doubling the Indian Loan Guarantee Program would be a good first step.

I know these challenges can be overcome because we have friends and partners in the White House and Cabinet, as well as leaders in Congress, who understand the needs of Indian Country and respond with meaningful and robust investments.

It was an honor to say “thank you” in person at the White House.

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