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Bush says housing program he's cutting is 'working'

At a campaign rally in New Mexico that brought out an Indian couple, President Bush on Wednesday promoted an Indian housing program that his administration has cut.

Telling Arnold and Debra Reano of Santo Domingo Pueblo that the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program is "working," Bush said he asked the artisans to come to the event because they are recent homeowners. The couple were among the 1,100 people at the "Ask President Bush" session in Albuquerque.

"That's what we want, isn't it?" Bush told the crowd. "Doesn't it make sense to have public policy aimed at helping people own their own home? I can't think of a better use of resources."

What the president left out was the $54 million cut he is seeking to the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program, also known as Section 184, and another Indian loan program for the upcoming fiscal year. The White House has told lawmakers that that the money isn't being used, an argument that has drawn criticism.

"Utilization of programs like Section 184 is growing rapidly," said Chester Carl, chairman of the National Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) and the director of the Navajo Nation's housing authority. "The programs were set up to bring much needed private lending into Indian Country, and that is what they are doing."

NAIHC, the largest inter-tribal housing organization, has accused Bush of "forgetting" Native Americans. For the past four years, the White House has reduced funding for Section 184 and other tribal housing programs. The administration's proposal for 2005 included over $32 million in cuts.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Section 184 program has guaranteed about 1,500 home mortgage loans worth more than $148 million since 1995. NAIHC says 400 Native families used the program this year alone.

"We want people owning their own home all across the country, every corner of America we want people to put out that welcome mat, welcome to my home," Bush said in Albuquerque.

In addition to mentioning Indian housing, Bush yesterday said changes in Medicare law will help bring down the cost of health care for Native Americans. "We can have more community health centers in urban New Mexico and rural New Mexico and the tribal areas of New Mexico to help poor citizens get primary care and take the pressure off our emergency rooms," he told the crowd.

The remarks were in contrast to his appearance last week at the UNITY minority journalists convention in Washington, D.C. He struggled to explain the concept of tribal sovereignty and said tribes were "given" sovereignty.

In 2000, Bush made New Mexico a focus of his campaign. His visit there was the only time he met with tribal leaders, who ended up endorsing former vice president Al Gore. Bush lost the state by just 366 votes.

So far this year, Bush has visited New Mexico three times. The state has a large Hispanic population but a large Native American one too. Home to 19 Pueblos, parts of the Navajo Nation and two Apache tribes, American Indians and Alaska Natives make up 9.5 percent of the state.

Many Pueblo leaders in particular have felt slighted by the administration despite attempts, through Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), who attended yesterday's event, to meet with Bush. They say they are being left out of key decisions affecting them.

Some leaders, like Sandia Pueblo Gov. Stuwart Paisano, have endorsed Democrat John Kerry and are helping the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Paisano spoke at the Democratic National Convention last month and rode with Kerry during his train ride through the state over the weekend.

But at least one is supporting Bush-Cheney. John Gonzales, former governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo and former president of the National Congress of American Indians, will be a delegate to the Republican National Convention later this month.

The Reanos are from Santo Domingo Pueblo, about a half-hour north of Albuquerque. More than 8,000 people live at the pueblo.

Relevant Links:
Bush-Cheney campaign -
National American Indian Housing Council -