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Congress passes measure for tribal general welfare programs

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Chickasaw Nation, was one of the many supporters of H.R.3043, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act. Photo from Flickr

H.R.3043, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, is on its way to President Barack Obama after clearing its last hurdle in the 113th Congress.

By unanimous consent, the Senate passed the bill on Thursday. That followed a voice vote in the House on Tuesday.

"In an extraordinary demonstration of bipartisan support, the 113th U.S. Congress passed the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act 2013," the Native American Finance Officers Association said in a statement. "It is fully expected to be signed into law by the President."

Generally, all income and benefits are subject to federal income tax. The bill ensures that tribal members won't have to pay taxes on certain benefits received through tribal general welfare programs.

"The act firmly supports tribal self-determination and sovereignty by granting flexibility for tribal leaders to determine appropriate programs and services to their citizens and also requires ambiguities in the statute to be resolved in favor of Indian tribes," NAFOA said.

The Internal Revenue Service has been criticized in recent years for going after tribal benefits. The Obama administration finalized new guidance, Application of the General Welfare Exclusion to Indian Tribal Government Programs That Provide Benefits to Tribal Members, in June but the bill establishes a more permanent policy on the matter.

The bill also provides temporary relief to tribes and their members who are being audited by requiring the Department of Treasury to develop new training for agents who work in Indian Country. A Tribal Advisory Committee will be set up to help oversee the training and to advise the Treasury Secretary on taxation issues.

"With Congress’ passage of H.R. 3043, federal tax policy will finally be aligned with federal Indian law and the U.S. Constitution in a way that fully respects the sovereignty of tribal governments," Colley Billie, the chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, said in a press release distributed by the United South and Eastern Tribes.

Billie served as chair of USET's General Welfare Exclusion Task Force. Although Congress acted quickly on the bill this week, he said tribes put in a lot of work into the effort.

"It has been a long journey to get to this point, but Indian Country should celebrate and recognize how much we can achieve when we work together in a unified manner," Billie said.

Get the Story:
Bill would align IRS treatment of states, tribes (The Ripon Advance 9/19)
Bill Would Give Tribes IRS Relief (Montana Public Radio 9/17)

Debate on H.R.3043, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act:

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