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Politics
Senate backs bill with $2B for Indian Country


The Senate overwhelmingly approved a global health bill on Wednesday that includes $2 billion for Indian Country.

The money is part of a $50 billion package that targets HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases worldwide. Key Senators were able to gain unanimous support for diverting a small chunk towards Indian law enforcement, health and water programs.

"While the primary focus of this legislation is focused on disease prevention overseas, I am pleased that we were able to direct attention to the most pressing needs of Native Americans here in the United States," said Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), who led the fight for the money as part of S.2731.

The bill only authorizes the funds so appropriators will have to ensure the money finds its way to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Department of Justice. But news of the $2 billion was welcomed.

"It will go a long way to address some of the issues that need to be addressed," Robert Moore, a council member for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, said at a Senate hearing this morning.

Jackie Johnson, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, also praised passage of the bill. The money will be "very helpful to law enforcement," she said at the hearing, which focused on tribal justice issues.

The House passed its version of the bill in April without the $2 billion. Thune, however, said he has reached an agreement with Democrats and Republicans to ensure the package that gets sent to President Bush includes the much-needed funds.

"I believe that the first step to creating jobs and economic opportunity on our reservations is improved public safety," he said. "This bill is a major step toward achieving that goal."

Of the $1 billion for public safety and health, $750 million will go towards law enforcement. The breakdown follows:
  • $370 million for detention facility construction, rehabilitation, and placement through the Department of Justice;
  • $310 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Public Safety and Justice Account, which funds tribal police and tribal courts;
  • $30 million for investigations and prosecution of crimes in Indian Country by the FBI and U.S. Attorneys;
  • $30 million for the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Program for Indian and Alaska Native Programs; and,
  • $10 million for cross-deputization or other cooperative agreements between state, local, and tribal governments.
  • The $250 million for health is directed to the IHS. The agency will determine how to split the money between contract health service, construction and rehabilitation of facilities and construction of sanitation facilities.

    The other $1 billion will be used for a variety of water projects on reservations that have already been approved by Congress.

    The bill states that the money will be available immediately, for fiscal year 2009. It will have to be spent over a five year period.

    "While I believe we have a significant moral responsibility to address global AIDS and will do so in the underlying bill, it is also the case that we do not have to go off our shore to find Third World conditions," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said on the Senate floor yesterday. "You can go to some Indian reservations in this country and find Third World conditions in this country, dealing with health care, with crime, with education, and a whole range of issues."

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