House restores funds to critical Indian programs

Republicans and Democrats in the House rebelled against the Bush administration's budget proposal last week and restored funds to critical Indian programs.

By a 293-128 vote, the House passed Interior's fiscal year 2007 budget bill on Thursday. The measure funds Indian programs at a total of $5.9 billion, $204 million above current levels and $62 million above the amount the White House requested in February.

The White House had sought to eliminate the entire urban Indian health program and all Johnson O'Malley education grants. Tribal leaders and key members of Congress protested the cuts as ill-advised.

In the report accompanying the bill, members of the House wrote that "reductions to Indian health, welfare and education programs are unacceptable."

The House Appropriations Committee restored all $32.7 million for urban the 23 Indian health clinics across the country. The money will prevent the facilities from cutting back services or closing their doors outright.

"Funding for the urban health program has been restored and the proposal to eliminate this program is rejected," the report states.

The House also fully restored $16.3 million to Johnson O'Malley, a program that provides school supplies, tutoring and other services to Native American students in public schools. "The committee feels that the justification for the reduction, that there are other programs in the government that could provide these funds, is unfounded," the report states.

The House expressed displeasure with the lack of funding for post-secondary education as well. For the past five years, the Bush administration has zeroed out the budgets for United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota and Crownpoint Institute in New Mexico.

The two tribal colleges "are institutions of higher learning that provide an educational benefit to Indian country," the bill report states. "The continued reduction of funding for these institutions is of great concern."

Other areas of concern included the construction of new Indian Health Service facilities. The Bush administration sought to cut $20 million from the account but the House added $19 million, brining the total for facilities construction to $36.7 million.

"The Service needs to do a better job of requesting and justifying construction funding for its hospital and clinic facility needs," the House wrote. "At the level of funding requested in 2007, it would take 48 years to complete the facilities on the current priority list."

Overall, the IHS is funded at $2.83 billion for 2007. This represents a $138 million increase over current levels and $7.6 million above the Bush administration's request.

Over at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the bill includes nearly $2 billion for the operation of Indian programs, an increase of $11.2 million increase over current levels and $6.8 million above the Bush administration's request.

The House commended the BIA for presenting its budget in a better format. But lawmakers directed the agency to submit a report by December 31 that explains how money is being used at the central office in Washington, D.C., and at the regional offices.

"The committee however, remains concerned about the amount of carryover monies in many of the accounts and about complaints from tribes that there was inadequate consultation with Tribes and tribal leaders during preparation of this year's budget," the report states. "The committee is also concerned that the process of making budgetary data available to tribes is inadequate."

The Office of Special Trustee, whose budget has grown considerably since the start of the Bush administration, is funded at $150 million. This represents a cut of $35 million to cut back historical accounting projects of individual Indian and tribal trust funds.

The House again criticized the administration's decision to take money away from the BIA and spend it at OST. "The committee believes that these funds would have been better used to fund greatly needed health, law enforcement and education programs in Indian country," the report states.

The bill now goes onto the Senate for consideration. In prior years, lawmakers have made changes to the figures passed by the House but the overall levels for Indian programs has generally remained the same.

Interior 2007 Appropriations:
H.R.5386 | Report 109-465 | House Appropriations Committee Press Release