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September 26, 2012 10:01 PM

Congressional Staffers Tour Pine Ridge Housing

Sharps Corner, SD

Professional staff members for the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees have spent the past few days on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation touring various community housing projects. 

And few places are community housing projects more important than on South Dakota's Indian Reservations.

"It's completely different to hear that in Washington and then to go see it like we did yesterday [Tuesday] and today [Wednesday]," Minority House Appropriations Committee Professional Staffer Joe Carlile said.

"The federal government makes an investment into poor communities to begin to create change and create housing and new opportunities here. When they cut that funding it negatively impacts that momentum," Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation Executive Director Tilsen said.

A straw bale home is part of a project to bring more energy-efficient and sustainable housing to the reservation.  It's a goal that hinges on continued support from the federal government.

"Seventy-five percent of our funding comes from the government right now.  The other 25 percent comes from donors and comes from philanthropic grant makers," Tilsen said.

Thunder Valley has already used around a million dollars of grants to formulate a detailed plan to improve communities in the region.  But with future funding on the congressional chopping block those plans may be in jeopardy.

"We need congress to appropriate monies to allow us to do that work and give us the funding to make it happen," Tilsen said.

"It's really important to actually be here to see what's needed so we can actually go back and tell our bosses what kind of policies and funds need to be given," Carlile said.

The straw bale house under construction is one of four different energy-efficient designs being built.  The most practical structure will serve as a model for future housing in the Thunder Valley community.

For more information, visit Thunder Valley's website.

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