John Thune: Obama fails to address tribal needs
The following is the opinion of Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota).

Americans come from many different backgrounds and have many different ideas about the challenges we face, but we all strive to make our communities as strong and vibrant as they can be. Safe neighborhoods, good schools, reliable health care, and even clean water are things many Americans take for granted. Unfortunately, there are many places on our reservations in South Dakota and in Tribal communities across America where these basic necessities are nonexistent.

Last year, I worked with Democrat and Republican Senate colleagues to create the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. This fund is authorized to spend up to $2 billion over five years on critical public safety, health care, and water resource development needs in Indian Country. As with any new federal program, the authorization is the first step in the process, and now Congress must act to appropriate money into the fund.

In November, I joined a bipartisan group of 22 Senators in sending a letter to then President-elect Obama requesting that he include the full funding amount for the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health in his first budget request to Congress. Unfortunately, the detailed budget request he submitted this week contained no money at all for this critical fund.

Over the next four years, the fund is authorized to spend $750 million for public safety, including money for Tribal police and courts, detention facility construction, investigation and prosecution of crimes, and resources for cooperation between tribal, state, local, and federal officials. The fund is also authorized to spend $250 million to improve health care service throughout Indian Country, and $1 billion for water settlement projects serving Tribal areas throughout the country.

Despite President Obama’s failure to include this important funding in his budget, Congress will have an opportunity to appropriate money into the fund, and I will work with my colleagues to see that it is at least partially funded as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 appropriation bill. The President’s decision to not include it in his budget is a setback, but there is still an opportunity to ensure that the most critical needs in Indian Country are addressed.

The Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health can be a powerful tool to meet the challenges that exist, but Congress must take action to ensure that the money is there. I pledge to work with Tribal leaders and members, as well as my Senate colleagues to address this problem.

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