Daines, Zinke Announce Legislation to Protect Tribes from Costly Obamacare Employer Mandate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) today announced the introduction of legislation to protect Native American tribes from Obamacare’s costly employer mandate.

The Tribal Employment and Jobs Protection Act, which was introduced today in the Senate and House, will exempt tribes and tribal employers from Obamacare’s employer mandate. The bills prevent massive fines that tribal employers would incur under Obamacare’s employer mandate.

“Tribes should not be forced to pay severe fines due to duplicative federal mandates in the President’s flawed health care law,” Daines stated. “These unreasonable fines have the potential to kill jobs and further cripple tribes’ economies. It is critically important that our tribes and tribal employees aren’t penalized due to a hastily written law.”

“One of the worst consequences of ObamaCare is the fact that it does great harm to the folks who can least afford it,” said Zinke. “Because ObamaCare was poorly written and passed before anyone had a chance to even read it, tribal government and businesses are facing steep fines that threaten jobs and the economic livelihood of thousands of families. Unemployment rates on reservations already reach as high as 50 percent due to failed policies like the war on coal; further burdens on the tribes with high fines and increased bureaucracy only adds insult to injury.”

The employer mandate places an undue burden on tribes, leading to lost jobs and increased unemployment. Instead of bolstering tribal economies, it drives out opportunities and wages. Tribal members are already exempt from the individual mandate. This legislation upholds the United States’ trust responsibility to Indian Tribes while honoring the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the U.S. government.

Daines’ and Zinke’s bills have received support from Montana tribes facing challenges due to Obamacare.

“The Blackfeet are now in the process of putting our financial house in order. After a devastating two year period, we are struggling back to solvency by cutting cost of operations (layoffs), finding new revenues, and aggregating debt. Now to be faced with over $1.1 million dollars in penalties will be difficult to bear,” stated Harry Barnes, Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.  “Recovery for the Blackfeet People and their government will be setback several years. While the Affordable Care Act has shifted in the winds of special interest exemptions, it has hit Indian Country with gale force destruction. We are Montanans and we have long ago gotten used to the wind coming off the Rocky Mountain Front. The winds of Washington are not a healing wind.”

“The Crow Tribe cannot afford a $1.6 million IRS penalty,” Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote stated. “If we were penalized by the employer mandate, it would impact the tribe’s ability to provide essential governmental services and create desperately needed jobs on the reservation.”

The full text of the legislation can be found here.

Daines’ bill is cosponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and John Thune (R-SD). The House legislation is sponsored by Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD). 

Senator John Thune: “While I believe all Americans should receive an exemption from Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, it seems illogical that Obamacare exempts members of federally recognized tribes from the individual mandate’s penalty, but requires tribal governments to comply with the law’s employer mandate. In South Dakota, tribes often serve as the primary employer of their community members. This mandate would have a significant negative impact on tribes and tribal citizens by diverting much-needed valuable resources away from economic development and important programs toward this burdensome law.”

Representative Kristi Noem: “The employer mandate within the President’s health care law is unaffordable for South Dakota tribes.  Moreover, it is unnecessary, given the federal government already has the responsibility of providing healthcare for tribal members. Without the relief granted by the Tribal Employment and Jobs Protection Act, tribal governments could be required to cut important services while tribally-owned businesses could be forced to cut jobs.  I’m hopeful this burden created by an ill-constructed law can soon be lifted.”