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Bush plans to save money by cutting Indian programs

Indian Country stands to lose more than $160 million in health care, education and other funds under President Bush's new spending plan, according to a report released by the White House on Thursday.

Days after announcing the fiscal year 2007 budget, the White House Office of Management and Budget gave a detailed accounting of the 141 programs proposed for cuts or outright elimination. Six Indian programs made the list as part of an initiative to "save" American taxpayers more money.

"When President Bush gave me guidance on what the 2007 budget should look like, he directed me to focus on national priorities and tighten our belt elsewhere," said Joshua B. Bolten, the director of the OMB.

According to the "Major Savings and Reforms Volume," Bush's priorities do not include the Urban Indian Health Program at the Indian Health Service [Website]. His budget seeks to eliminate this $33 million program, arguing that American Indians and Alaska Natives who live in cities can seek health care from other sources.

"After 30 years of federal funding, the 2007 budget proposes to phase out direct funding for Urban Indian Health and redirect the dollars to improving the health status of the increasing population of American Indians and Alaska Natives living in rural areas and on reservations," the OMB said. The document doesn't note that the majority of Native Americans now live in cities and metropolitan areas.

Bush's budget also tightens the belt on Indian education. He is seeking to eliminate the $16 million Johnson O'Malley (JOM) program, which provides grants to tribes so that tribes can distribute the money to public schools for tutoring, counseling and other services for Indian students.

The OMB report notes that 93 percent -- or about 500,000 -- Native American children attend public schools, compared to about 48,000 who attend Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. These numbers might seem like a good justification of the need for JOM, but the White House says states will be able to replace the $16 million loss by tapping other sources.

"The state public schools have other sources of funding for activities funded by the Johnson O�Malley grants," the report states. "These schools would be encouraged to apply for supplemental education funding from other state and federal agencies, for example, the Department of Education's Indian Education Grants to Local Education Agencies and their Special Programs for Indian Children."

The Department of Education's 2007 budget includes $95.3 million for Indian Education Grants, an amount that would more than appear to make up for the loss of JOM. But these grants are not just awarded to public schools, they are also awarded to BIA schools, meaning there would be less money to go around if states started responding to the White House's encouragement.

The 2007 budget request for Special Programs for Indian Children is $19.4 million, but only $5.7 million is available for programs similar to JOM, a factor not mentioned in the OMB document.

Elsewhere in education, the budget seeks to cut Indian school construction by $50 million. The report has some sobering words that indicate the program is no longer a top priority for the administration.

"The President committed to spend nearly $1 billion to repair and replace these schools starting in 2002," the OMB said. "This funding commitment has been met."

The White House has repeatedly complained that the school construction program is not doing as well as they expected. "Of the 37 replacement schools funded from 2001 through 2006, only 10 have been completed," the report states

The White House also rates the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development as "ineffective." The budget seeks to cut $738 million from the program, which provides economic and community development assistance to tribes, states and local governments.

The Indian CDBG component, however, would be spared any major cuts. The 2007 budget includes a $57 million set aside for tribes, down from $59 million in current levels.

Another cut comes to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program at the Department of Agriculture. The budget seeks to eliminate this $107 million program, which provides monthly food packages to low-income women, infants, children and elderly in 32 states, the District of Columbia and "two reservations," according to the OMB.

However, the web page for the program lists more than 110 tribes and tribal organizations in nearly two dozen states who are eligible to receive food from the department [USDA: Commodity Supplemental Food Program].

The sixth Indian program identified by the OMB is an unusual one -- the "Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners" at the Department of Education [Website]. The program provides "non-competitive" cultural education grants for Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and two museums in Massachusetts.

But the program was recently amended by an act of Congress to include "any Federally recognized Indian tribe in Mississippi" -- in other words, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The language was included in the most recent appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. The Hill newspaper investigated the rider, or earmark, and found it was supported by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Even though the White House has called for the elimination or reduction of the programs, there is no guarantee members of Congress will go along with the request. Last year, for example, Bush sought to scale down the CDBG program but lawmakers didn't adopt the proposal.

White House OMB Report:
Major Savings and Reforms in the President's 2007 Budget (February 2006)

Relevant Links:
White House Office of Management and Budget-
Johnson O'Malley, Minneapolis Public Schools -