President Barack Obama signed the Hearth Act in July after it overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate. The bill turns over more authority for tribes to approve leases on their lands.
Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., was the bill’s original sponsor. Heinrich said he heard from constituents who had to wait two years for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve mortgages so they could buy a home.
“If you’re adding two years to the process of buying a home, you can imagine how problematic that is,” Heinrich said in an interview. “This bill was designed to fix that.”
The Navajo Nation was a model for the legislation, Heinrich said. The tribe allows long-term leasing that can lend businesses and homeowners a degree of certainty.
“The last thing we should be doing in the face of the kind of unemployment that exists in tribal communities is to make is harder to buy and build homes,” he said. “I think this will help in tribal areas to reduce unemployment and put people to work in their own communities.”
The legislation also will help businesses, the congressman said.
“It’ll make it easier for small businesses to get started on tribal land as well,” he said.