Senate clears new funds for Indian programs
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The Senate last night approved a $390 billion spending bill to fund most of the federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS), for the coming year.

The vote on the omnibus appropriations measure came after a series of Democratic attempts to add money for health care and job-training were rejected. With spending limits close to the amounts imposed by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the final tally was 69 to 29. Only one Republican voted against it.

The bill still has to be approved by the GOP-led House, which has its own priorities. But Republican leaders said they were confident it would pass muster.

"I am zero concerned we'll come out with a bill that is one penny over what the president has said he will sign," said Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), the third ranking Republican in the Senate, at a press conference yesterday.

In terms of Indian programs, there were little changes to the budget Bush proposed nearly a year ago although the BIA and the IHS will be seeing increases. The BIA's funding for fiscal year 2003, which officially started last October, is $2.3 billion while the IHS will see $2.8 billion.

Separate from the BIA is $159 million in funding for the Office of Special Trustee (OST), which was created by Congress in 1994 to reform the management of billions of dollars in Indian-owned money. Overall, the Bush administration has more than $300 million to carry out its trust fund initiatives, including a $5 million reorganization that is opposed by tribal leaders and an $8 million land consolidation program that helps the government reduce the number of Individual Indian Money (IIM) beneficiaries.

Also included is a provision to allow the Department of Interior to use $50,000 to "correct" the balances in certain IIM accounts. A top official said the money is necessary because the department underpaid and, in some instances overpaid, IIM beneficiaries by making estimated payments to their accounts. Actual amounts were unavailable because the department's failure to correct its computer security problems resulted in a prolonged shutdown.

Other parts of the bill authorized funding for Indian programs elsewhere in the federal agencies. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Indian housing grants were approved at $648 million for the coming year. Under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), tribes and Alaska Natives have more control of housing money.

At the Department of Justice, more than $50 million was approved for Indian Country law enforcement, tribal courts and alcohol and crime grants.

In total, nearly 250 amendments to the appropriations measure were proposed by members of the Senate. Voting took place all day yesterday on a number of pet projects and proposals often called "pork."

Any differences with the House will be settled by a joint House-Senate conference committee. The Senate appointed 29 members, including Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).

Relevant Documents:
BIA-OST Budget | IHS and Other Related Indian Programs | General DOI Provisions | Full Text of Omnibus Appropriations Act

Final Roll Call:
Joint Resolution H.J.Res. 2 (January 23, 2003)

Related Stories:
House panels change hands in 108th Congress (01/10)
Rahall: The Indian agenda in the 108th Congress (01/08)
Indian Country scores on DOI budget bill (07/18)
IHS budget grows but programs don't (2/12)
Trust drives small increase in BIA budget (2/5)
Bush proposal strips BIA of education (2/5)
Interior security funds outlined (2/5)

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