Farmington Daily Times: Luján discusses bills to address scams, internet access issues impacting Native Americans
By Hannah Grover
September 5, 2020
FARMINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, is concerned that Native American communities could be the target of scams and that scam artists could reach out to tribal members to defraud them.
He has introduced a bill that would direct the Federal Trade Commission to study scams impacting Native American tribes and tribal members. This study would be done in consultation with tribes and Pueblos.
Luján discussed the Protecting Indian Tribes from Scams Act as well as another bill he introduced to help with internet access on tribal lands during a phone interview with The Daily Times on Sept. 3.
“You have scammers trying to take advantage of people based on Medicare or Social Security or offering to sell defective products that they say are (personal protective equipment) but they’re not,” Luján said when asked about input he has heard from constituents leading up to this bill being introduced.
Once the study has been completed, the FTC would be required to present its findings to Congress.
“There would be recommendations made to Congress, that way we could take further action,” he said.
Six months after the report is presented to Congress, the FTC would be required to update its website with information for both consumers and businesses on identifying scams targeting tribes and tribal members.
Luján emphasized that this bill is a bipartisan effort. His co-sponsor is Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont.
“Scam artists have for too long targeted Tribes and Tribal members. It’s past time for this to end and to hold these criminals accountable,” Gianforte said in a press release. “Our bipartisan legislation will require the FTC to act and empower Tribal communities to combat con artists. It’s critical Congress pass this bill to help end these scams.”
Luján said the Protecting Indian Tribes from Scams Act complements another piece of legislation that he has worked on, the Stopping COVID Scams Act.
“That piece of legislation would actually empower the Federal Trade Commission to work with state attorneys general to impose civil penalties on COVID-19 scammers,” he said.
In addition, Luján has also reached across the aisle to sponsor the Tribal Connect Act.
Luján and co-sponsor Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., introduced the Tribal Connect Act in August and it was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. On the Senate side, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, are carrying the bill.
The Federal Communications Commission has a universal service support program which provides discounts to assist schools and libraries with obtaining affordable, high-speed internet. This is known as the E-rate program.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to show the true impact of disparities that tribal schools and students have been facing — including the lack of access to high-speed internet. Unfortunately, an alarming percentage of rural tribal communities in New Mexico lack access to broadband internet, which means less access to educational, health, and career-related resources,” Heinrich said in a press release. “The Tribal Connect Act is an investment in broadband connectivity in Indian Country so all of our students and children can compete on an even playing field and learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. By connecting more tribes to the E-rate program, we can strengthen broadband across rural New Mexico to improve education and access to public health resources, and boost our economy.”
The bill would give tribal colleges and libraries access to the E-rate program. The bill would allocate $100 million from the Federal universal service support programs to tribal colleges and libraries.
The lack of internet access in tribal communities is not a new thing, but it has gotten additional attention in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools turned to distance learning to educate students.
“So many students could not participate because they did not have access to the internet,” Luján said.