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Politics
Senate committee backs boost for Indian programs


The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is backing big increases for Indian Country programs, including a $400 million appropriation that was rejected on the Senate floor earlier this month.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chairman of the committee, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the vice chairman, want colleagues to boost Indian programs by more than $1 billion for the coming year. They are seeking an additional $600 million for Indian health, another $100 million for public safety and justice and at least $90 million more for economic development programs.

"The United States owes a unique legal obligation and trust responsibility to 562 federally recognized Indian tribes based on treaties, federal laws, and Supreme Court decisions," a March 13 letter to the Senate Budget Committee states. "We recommend that the FY 2010 Budget Resolution include funding levels that will permit the federal government to meet these solemn obligations."

Dorgan and Barrasso also want Congress to appropriate $400 million for the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. That's the amount that Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), who is not a member of the committee but is a strong tribal advocate, sought for the program through an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act

The Senate rejected the request along party lines, with Democrats -- including Dorgan and other members of the committee -- voting against the amendment. That led to an Indian Country Today story in which Thune accused the majority party of playing "politics" with the bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law last week.

According to Democrats, the fiscal year 2009 bill provides record amounts for Indian programs. It includes nearly $6 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, an increase of 5.7 percent.

Combined with increases in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the BIA and the IHS will receive nearly $7 billion, a 23 percent increase, for the current year.

Obama has promised increases for both agencies but so far has only released an outline of his fiscal year 2010 budget proposal. In their letter, Dorgan and Barrasso say even more money is needed to address poor health, safety and economic conditions in Indian Country.

"The Indian Affairs Committee's oversight of conditions and issues facing tribal communities has revealed significant challenges," Dorgan and Barrasso wrote. "Many tribes face inadequate access to health care, law enforcement services, economic opportunity, education, and housing, all key elements of healthy communities. Tribal infrastructure needs are significant and too often present both a threat to public health and safety and a barrier to tribal economic development."

Relevant Documents:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee Views and Estimates (March 13, 2009)

FY 2010 Budget:
President's Message | Interior Factsheet | Interior Overview | HHS Factsheet | HHS Overview | More Documents

FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act:
H.R.1105 | Text and Explanatory Statement | More Details

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