Johnson Tribal School Bill Passes the House

September 21, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, legislation sponsored by U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), which will divert millions back to tribal students’ education, passed the U.S. House unanimously. The Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act (H.R. 895) makes tribal grant schools eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) program. Johnson, along with President of the Oglala Lakota Nation Education Coalition Cecelia Fire Thunder, testified on the bill in committee last year.

“For ten years, leaders have tried to fix this mistake, and I’m glad we got it done today. I’m grateful for the input tribal members gave me along the way,” said Johnson. “The Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act directs critical dollars back to the students. My bill creates much-needed parity among tribal schools, and I’m looking forward to seeing it pass the Senate.”

“This simple and clean legislative fix would directly benefit our tribal grant schools by allowing them to access lower cost health insurance options, resulting in significant overall savings. Not only would this fix benefits for more than 500 employees working at tribal grant schools on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, it would also free up millions of dollars to be used to better the education for thousands of tribal students at these schools. Tribal grant schools should not be treated differently than other tribal schools and I’m glad the House has acted. I urge the House and Senate to work together to get this bill across the finish line,” said Cecelia Fire Thunder, President, Oglala Lakota Nation Education Consortium.

Rep. Johnson speaks on the U.S. House floor in support of H.R. 895. Click here or above to view his full remarks.

This legislation would amend Section 409 of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to clarify that tribal grant schools are eligible to participate in the FEHB program and the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program.

In 2010, Congress reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. A provision was included in Section 409 of this law that allows tribes and tribal organizations, including schools, operating programs through P.L. 93-638 contracts to be eligible for insurance coverage for their employees through the FEHB program and the FEGLI program. This provision did not explicitly mention P.L. 100-297 and, therefore, the Office of Personnel Management, in consultation with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Health and Human Services, determined that tribal grant schools are ineligible to purchase insurance coverage for their employees through FEHB and FEGLI.

The Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act would improve the recruitment and retention of professional educators in tribal and rural communities and would allow tribal schools to spend less on health care and more on their students. Tribal grant schools would still be required to pay the government’s contribution toward the insurance premiums and the employees would be responsible for the remaining balance. This bill will not cost the taxpayer additional dollars.