VIDEO: Rep. Johnson Testifies on the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act
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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) today testified during an Indigenous Peoples of the United States subcommittee hearing on the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act (H.R. 895), legislation he introduced earlier this year.
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 Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program and the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program.
Rep. Johnson’s remarks below:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know I have sat up on that dais as an off-committee questioner, for a different subcommittee, but this is my first opportunity to testify on this side of the table. Thank you for your kindness.
The hearing on H.R. 895, it’s really about fairness, it’s about equity, it’s about improving outcomes for tribal students and that’s why I’m so grateful for your time today.
As I suspect you all know, there are a number of different ways that Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools can be operated. There are about a hundred and eighty BIE schools nationally and they operate under three different systems. The first system is where BIE directly operates the school. There are between 50 and 60, depending on how you count them, schools in that type. The second type would be 638 schools and there are just a handful of those, the third type and the type we are going to talk most about today are those that are operated under a 297 tribal grant. Now, those are all BIE schools.
As I’ve talked to my friends and professionals in the BIE educational universe, they’ve made it clear to me time and time again that there are dedicated and talented professionals teaching in each of those three different types of BIE schools. The jobs they do, are similar, they’re the same. This is why it’s so interesting and, I think, unfortunate that our country treats those employees, those educators, so differently from a benefits perspective. I see no compelling policy reason for that differential treatment. That’s why we need to close the loophole and that’s where H.R. 895 brings us. That’s what this bill would do. It would close this oversight.
I should mention, there is no federal budget impact on H.R. 895. This is not a budget buster, it has no impact. Before I go any further, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the hard work of people who for years have focused on this issue, like Cecelia Fire Thunder, who is in the audience, you’re going to hear from her later and I think that will be a real treat. I have been grateful for an opportunity to work with her and others as the sponsor of H.R. 895.
Just a little bit of background, in 2010 when Congress permanently reauthorized the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act, there was a provision included in that bill that made it clear that 638 schools would be eligible to purchase insurance products through the federal employee insurance programs. Now of course those were the type two schools we talked about. Now the type one schools, the BIE operated schools, they had always had access to those benefits.
For reasons that I don’t comprehend, near as I can tell it was an unintentional oversight, the type three schools we talked about, the tribal grant schools, were not mentioned anywhere in that provision. As a result, the determination was made that they did not have access to that insurance program for their employees.
What this means is that they have to go out and purchase these insurance products for their employees in a more expensive arena. That means there are dollars diverted from the core goal and the critically important task of educating tribal students and those dollars are instead spent on health insurance benefits.
I think everybody here regardless of what part of the country you live in, regardless of where you fit on the political spectrum, we all have to acknowledge that ensuring the children in tribal areas have access to high quality education is one of the most critically important challenges facing our country. And that is a challenge, that is a goal, that people like Ms. Fire Thunder, and the tribal grant schools in South Dakota, and the tribal grant schools across the United States of America struggle with every single day.
If we can pass H.R. 895, we can keep from diverting those much-needed funds away from student education. That will free up those resources so they can be used for student outcomes, for student education, and that is going to improve the lives of tribal students across the country, and that is a very, very good thing.
I want to close by thanking the Chairman, the Subcommittee Chairman, the Ranking Member, and all the Members on the subcommittee for the work you have done and the work you will do in the future on this very important piece of legislation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.