Left to Right: Janet Alkire, Sheri Buretta, Rep. Mary Peltola, Hon. Jarred-Michael Erickson, Hon. Frank White Clay

Left to Right: Hon. Frank White Clay, Hon. Jarred-Michael Erickson, Sheri Buretta

On Tuesday, April 30, 2024, the Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs convened in Washington D.C. for a crucial legislative hearing. Among the bills considered was H.R. 2687, introduced by Rep. Mary Peltola and co-sponsored by Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN). The proposed legislation aims to amend the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), specifically addressing the exclusion of certain payments to aged, blind, or disabled Alaska Natives when considering eligibility for certain programs.

Chugach Testimony

Sheri Buretta, Chairman of the Board for Chugach Alaska Corporation (Chugach), took the stand to continue to advocate for this essential legislation that was originally introduced by the late Rep. Don Young over five years ago. In her testimony, she stated:

“Supporting community and the group is our culture and the way our people have endured for thousands of years in this harsh Alaska climate; this is especially true when it comes to taking care of our Elders and our disabled. Alaska Native Elders and disabled individuals who live in these remote areas express the challenges they face to pay for healthcare and basic necessities, such as glasses, dentures, or food. Most do not have pensions or retirement accounts.

Village and Regional Corporations in Alaska provide benefits to our Native Elders through cash dividend distributions and distributions from Settlement Trusts; often the amount we give is just enough to push against the threshold amount these Elders and disabled shareholders receive through federal assistance programs for housing, nutrition assistance, Medicare, and Medicaid to support them and their communities.”

Although ANSCA allows an exclusion of the first $2,000 in dividends when determining eligibility for these programs, the threshold has not been increased or adjusted for inflation since 1988, nor has ANCSA been amended to exclude benefits received by Alaska Natives from settlement trusts.

Impact of H.R. 2687

Under H.R. 2687, distributions of Trust benefits to Alaska Native Elders (65 years or older) or disabled individuals will not count against them for purposes of determining eligibility for governmental assistance programs – ensuring that essential programs remain accessible to those who need them most.

Buretta closed her testimony with: “Chugach’s Elders and disabled shareholders should not have to choose between healthcare benefits or housing assistance or food stamps and receiving a dividend distribution that allows them to pay their bills each month.”

You can watch the full hearing here.

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