The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would stop the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from taxing tribal welfare benefits.

The House passed the bill by voice vote earlier this week and the Senate cleared it through a unanimous consent agreement. The legislation now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.


Currently, the IRS doesn’t include state and local welfare benefits as part of a person’s taxable income, but because Native American tribal jurisdictions are not the same as a state’s, the IRS has taxed tribal welfare benefits in the past.

The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, H.R. 3043, would ensure that tribal housing assistance, emergency medical care and education assistance are treated as nontaxable income.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Manchin told White House he would back version of billionaire tax: report Democrats look to scale back Biden bill to get it passed MORE (D-Ore.) said the bill is about parity and ensuring that tribal members are treated the same as other federal taxpayers.

“This bill will improve the application of the federal income tax in Indian country and in doing so will reflect appropriate respect for the sovereignty of tribal governments,” Wyden said.

The bill also establishes a Tribal Advisory Committee to help the Treasury Department and the IRS to understand how best to address tax issues affecting Indian country.

Wyden said the legislation was necessary to stop aggressive IRS audits that hindered economic and social development within tribal communities.

“Tribal governments have a long history of providing critical benefits to tribal members, and these programs are fundamental to the sovereignty and cultural integrity of tribes,” Wyden said. “Tribes, and not the IRS, are in the best position to determine the needs of their members and provide for the general welfare of their tribal citizens and communities.”