Urban clinics and tribal colleges see good news in budget
Urban clinics across the nation and two tribal colleges celebrated on Thursday after learning they will receive full funding for the current year.

The clinics and the colleges were in danger of losing money after the Republican-controlled 109th Congress adjourned last year without passing all of the federal appropriations bills. When Democrats took over this January, they eliminated earmarks and other special items from the budget.

The move left supporters in Indian Country wondering whether their health and higher education programs would survive. But after reviewing the resolutions passed by Congress, the Bush administration has decided to continue funding for these institutions fiscal year 2007.

"Not knowing what the very near future would bring has been almost unbearable for the urban health centers," said Geoffrey Roth, the executive director of the Director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health.

Other beneficiaries include the United Technical Tribes in North Dakota and Crownpoint Institute of Technology in New Mexico. Both schools receive funding through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"We were concerned that we might be left out for the remainder of the year," said David M. Gipp, the president of UTTC. "So, we're very pleased."

As part of its 2007 budget proposal, the White House eliminated the $33 million urban Indian program from the Indian Health Service. Funds for UTTC and CIT were also zeroed out.

Last fall, the House restored money to both programs through the Interior appropriations bill, which funds the IHS and the BIA. But the bill was never enacted into law.

Once Democrats took control of the 110th Congress, they sought to finish all the appropriations. But two actions they took -- removing earmarks and keeping funding at 2006 levels -- threatened a variety of Indian programs like the urban clinics and the tribal colleges.

The developments put pressure on the administration to figure out which programs they would be able to fund in 2007. Jim Cason, the associate deputy secretary at the Interior Department, said the BIA was working with the White House Office of Management and Budget to find a "good nexus" between earmarks like higher education funding and other programs.

"Once we get through the OMB process, we can talk to everybody about where we fit," Cason said at the National Congress of American Indians winter session last month.

At a BIA budget advisory session with tribal leaders in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, the "good news" came for UTTC. "We certainly are not an earmark of the type that lawmakers are trying to control," said Gipp. "We have a long history of being funded by the BIA under an Indian Self-Determination contract going back to 1978."

Despite the positive action, Roth said the fight for urban Indian clinics is far from over. In its 2008 budget, the Bush administration is again proposing to eliminate money for 36 clinics that serve an estimated 400,000 Native Americans in urban areas.

Relevant Links:
National Council of Urban Indian Health - http://www.ncuih.org
National Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
Department of the Interior - http://www.doi.gov
White House Office of Management and Budget - http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb

Related Stories:
Kempthorne touts Indian initiatives for 2008 (3/21)
Health care push continues at House hearing (3/19)
DOJ's Indian white paper a political whodunit (3/14)
Urban Indians under attack over health care (3/12)
Senate passes $463B appropriations measure (02/15)
Democrats promise action at USET conference (2/14)
Bush cuts funding for urban Indian clinics again (2/8)
Interior budget funds anti-meth and education initiatives (02/06)
House passes $463B federal appropriations measure (2/1)
House passes $463B federal appropriations measure (2/1)
Democrats make move on federal budget measure (1/31)