Throughout this year, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) consulted with Tribes on the Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) provision of the 2008 Farm Bill. This provision directed RUS to develop a strategy to deliver infrastructure program funding tailored and more affordable to the circumstances and challenges facing trust lands in high need of RUS’s electric, telecommunications and water and waste program funding. Second, the provision directed RUS to consult with local governments and Federal agencies in implementing this effort.
RUS initiated Tribal Consultations on the SUTA provision in February by conducting a listening session at the 2010 Reservation Economic Summit in Las Vegas. Since that time, RUS has hosted 15 in-person consultation events in places like the Pueblo of Picuris in New Mexico, the Yakama Nation in Washington State, Omaha, Nebraska and Maine. Additionally, in an effort to collect input and spark discussion with those tribes unable to travel to these events, RUS hosted three webinars/teleconferences earlier this fall.
While we prepare to consult with local governments and stakeholders in Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, RUS is in the process of compiling and analyzing the responses from by Tribal Leaders at each of these events. Through this process, RUS has received well over 700 distinct comments and recommendations, a number growing by the day.
The comments RUS received through this process had several common themes that include the definition of Trust Areas under the provision and how best to document high need for RUS infrastructure programs. In the coming weeks, RUS staff will continue to analyze the comments made by Tribal leaders around the country regarding the SUTA provision and develop recommendations on how we can most effectively implement this important initiative.
As we approach the close of this year, RUS wanted to thank Tribal Leaders and USDA Rural Development staff for your combined efforts in making these consultations so meaningful and productive. Watch for progress in implementing the SUTA initiative in 2011 and please do not hesitate to contact RUS if you have any further suggestions or comments. Best wishes throughout this holiday season and Happy New Year!
More information on tribal consultations is available here.