New $23 Million Wellness Center Sets Stage for Healthier Future on Fort Peck Reservation

After two decades of study and community input, a new $23 million Fort Peck Wellness Center in Poplar that aims to address a disparity in life expectancy among members of the Fort Peck Tribes has received catalytic funding through the federal New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) program. The 50,000-square-foot health clinic and recreation center will promote health through every stage of life, providing services for health care, physical fitness, childcare, and cultural arts and education. Additionally, the new wellness center will revitalize the old airport site off U.S. Highway 2 that the tribes have designated for redevelopment. Financing came together through investment from the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and New Markets Tax Credits from the community development lender MoFi. The project highlights the power of the NMTC program in helping to finance community facilities in the places they are needed most. Construction, which began in 2020, is expected to be complete by early 2022.

“Communities thrive when folks have a place to gather, and the Fort Peck Wellness Center will help keep folks in Poplar and across Fort Peck healthy while providing a venue to meet the physical, emotional and cultural needs of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes,” said U.S. Senator Jon Tester. “I’m grateful for MoFi’s work to secure the New Markets Tax Credits and ensure this project has the critical funding it needs to be successful, and I look forward to seeing the completed project once it’s finished.”

“I’m glad to see investment in our tribal communities that will allow the Fort Peck Wellness Center to better serve the Poplar community. This new facility will support jobs and the long-term health and wellness of the Fort Peck Tribes,” said U.S. Senator Steve Daines. “I will continue to fight for permanent extension of the New Markets Tax Credit, so we can see continued investment in Indian Country.”

MoFi President Dave Glaser said the project aligns perfectly with the NMTC program’s goals. “The Fort Peck Wellness Center shows how New Markets Tax Credits can enable and even amplify the long-term plans and visions of communities facing critical hurdles to development,” he said. “What began as a student-led study 20 years ago will soon be a comprehensive health clinic and recreation center that will help address health disparities and build communitywide well-being.”

MoFi identifies NMTC projects based on factors including the provision of services in low-income communities, alignment with local development priorities and job creation. MoFi sells the tax credits to investors, typically banks, and puts the proceeds from the sale into the project, providing about 20% of the total costs. The projects that MoFi supports would not have been able to move forward without the tax credit. U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC) has agreed to purchase the New Markets Tax Credits for the Fort Peck project.

“The Fort Peck Wellness Center will do much more than just address physical well-being,” said Maria Bustria-Glickman, senior vice president with USBCDC, the tax credit and community development subsidiary of U.S. Bank. “It will positively impact the overall fabric of life on the Fort Peck Reservation. This is one of the reasons why the NMTC program is so important – it provides a unique opportunity for us to invest in economic development projects that can help build thriving communities.”

The new Fort Peck Wellness Center is the culmination of an effort that began in 2001, when local high school students, in partnership with Harvard Medical School, began studying the underlying issues causing a disparity in life expectancy among members of the Fort Peck Tribes. The average life expectancy of an individual living on the Fort Peck Reservation is 59 years, compared to 78.5 years for the state of Montana and nationwide. In the years following the study, a small wellness center was created in Poplar and school-based programs provided children with health care services.

After years of public meetings and community input, construction of the new wellness center began in June 2020 and is expected to be complete by January 2022. This new building will replace the smaller center and will include a health care clinic with medical, dental and therapy rooms, and offices for providers. The center will also feature telemedicine rooms with an on-site nurse to allow patients to get exams over videoconference with specialized providers that aren’t available on the reservation. A pool, gym and workout equipment will encourage physical fitness, while cultural arts, education and dance programs will foster tribal traditions. A childcare facility will also be available. Overall, the wellness center is expected to provide a safe, secure and supportive environment to promote long-term health and wellness among tribal members.

Additionally, the new center is expected to create 70 full-time equivalent jobs with good pay and benefits, many of which will be available to low-income people.

“The gap financing from the NMTC provided the bridge between our local funds and the amount needed to complete the project,” said Jackie Weeks, Tribal Operations Officer, Fort Peck Tribes. “You need a great team to put projects like this together, and we’re grateful to all of our partners who came to the table to help us get to this moment.”

The NMTC program was enacted in 2000, as part of a bipartisan effort to spur private investment and economic growth in low-income and rural communities that lack access to the capital needed to support businesses, create jobs and sustain healthy economies. The credits are awarded annually through a competitive process; to date, MoFi has received $631 million in New Markets Tax Credits.

The program has remained thanks to incremental, short-term extensions and is currently in the first year of a five-year extension that was enacted in December 2020. Recently, members of Congress introduced the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) Extension Act of 2021, which would permanently extend the program. Both Senators Tester and Daines have been longtime supporters of permanency, illustrating the bipartisan appeal of the program.

Since 2009, MoFi has financed 30 projects across Montana with NMTC, totaling over $312 million, and creating and retaining nearly 2,500 permanent jobs. Projects have been completed in Billings, Bozeman, Browning, Butte, Great Falls, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula, Polson and Poplar.

MoFi is actively looking at projects for its most recent NMTC allocation, which will be invested in qualified areas of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Communities, businesses and nonprofits that have projects of at least $5 million with a gap in financing are encouraged to contact MoFi at 844-728-9234 or www.mofi.org to see if they qualify.

Image via JGA Architects Engineers Planners