Begich Presses for Increased Federal Engagement with Alaska Natives

Secures additional resources for tribal outreach on disaster recovery

Continuing his efforts to make sure the federal government pays attention to the unique needs of Alaska communities, U.S. Senator Mark Begich pressed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate on his agency’s outreach to Alaska Natives. As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee with oversight of federal emergency management, Begich stressed the importance of direct contact and consultation with tribal leaders during a hearing of the committee last week.

In the wake of Begich’s joint letter with Montana Senator and Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) that highlighted shortcomings in the federal government’s efforts to work closely with tribes on disaster management, Administrator Fugate committed to increased resources for tribal outreach in this year’s budget. He stated that FEMA recognizes that its responsibility to consult with tribes is not met unless it meets directly with tribal leaders.

“I am encouraged by the strong commitment Administrator Fugate made at last week’s hearing to engage directly with Alaska Natives in their villages,” said Begich. “It’s essential that federal agencies like FEMA closely consult with local communities to make sure their specific needs are met, especially in the area of disaster management and response. As we have seen with recent disasters from Galena to the Kenai, Alaskans face diverse challenges that require sufficient federal resources for prevention and recovery. I am glad that legislation the Senate passed last year speeds up recovery by giving tribes the ability to go directly to the federal government for disaster declarations and emergency assistance.”

The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, a bipartisan measure Begich supported, contained numerous legislative reforms to disaster relief programs, including authority for tribal governments to cut through bureaucracy and request assistance directly from FEMA.

The hearing addressed FEMA’s budget request for FY2015, which runs from October 1, 2014, to September 30, 2015.