Senators seek money for Indian safety and health
A bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, asking for money for the Emergency Fund for Indian Health and Safety.

Congress created the $2 billion fund last year to pay for public safety, health and water projects in Indian Country. But no money has been put into the fund and President Barack Obama didn't include it in his fiscal year 2010 budget.

The letter was sent to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the Appropriations chairman, and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), the ranking member. It was signed by Sens. John Thune (R-South Dakota), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), Max Baucus (D-Montana), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska), Mark Udall (D-Colorado), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).

The text of the letter follows:
Dear Chairman Inouye and Vice Chairman Cochran:

As the Appropriations Committee prepares its Fiscal Year 2010 (FY10) allocations to its Subcommittees, we request an increase to the 302(b) allocations for the Energy and Water Development; Commerce, Justice and Science; and the Interior and Environment Subcommittees. Increased allocations are needed in FY2010 to provide monies for the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health (the “Emergency Fund”) in order to address unmet needs in Indian Country for public safety, health care and water supply and delivery infrastructure.

The Emergency Fund was established and authorized in Title VI of the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-293) (the “Act”) on July 30, 2008. As you are aware, Indian Country faces a public safety and health crisis due, in large part, to a lack of federal funding. Recognizing this fact, Congress authorized the Emergency Fund to provide (1) $750,000,000 for law enforcement in Indian Country, (2) $250,000,000 for Indian health care, including contract health services, Indian health facilities, and domestic and community sanitation facilities, and (3) $1,000,000,000 for water supply and delivery projects. These amounts are in addition to any amounts made available under any other provision of law. The funds may be drawn down from the account by the Attorney General and the Secretaries of Interior and Health and Human Services.

Passage of the authorizing bill was just the first step. We must now provide funds for the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health so that we can begin to address the substantial unmet need for public safety, health care and water infrastructure. In support of funding, there have been bipartisan letters to the current administration and to the Senate Budget Committee requesting language supporting budgetary authority for the Emergency Fund. Pursuant to these letters, the Senate passed a budget resolution containing language specifically addressing budgetary authority for “public safety, health care and water priorities benefitting American Indians and Alaska Natives.” Given the level of bipartisan support, we ask for your help in securing the largest possible increase to the 302(b) allocations for the Energy and Water Development; Commerce, Justice and Science; and the Interior and Environment Subcommittees

Funds authorized for public safety would begin to address the lack of staff and resources to arrest, prosecute, and detain criminals in Indian Country. American Indians experience violent crime at a rate more than twice the national average, yet funding for law enforcement in Indian Country is seriously deficient, and contributes to serious public safety risks. A 2004 Inspector General report found that Indian detention facilitates are neither safe nor secure and are “a national disgrace.” A 2008 Department of the Interior-contracted report recommended that the United States construct or rehabilitate 263 detention facilities throughout Indian Country at an estimated cost of $8.4 billion over the next ten years. Significant funding is also needed for the operation and maintenance of these facilities, tribal law enforcement and tribal judicial systems.

The health care funds authorized in the Emergency Fund would help strengthen access to health care in Indian Country. Indians currently suffer from a greater incidence of illness and higher mortality rates than the general U.S. population. Indians are six and one-half times more likely to die from alcoholism, six times more likely to die from tuberculosis, and three times more likely to die from diabetes. However, Indian health care funding is inadequate to meet even the most basic needs. The Indian Health Service (IHS) estimated that the unfunded need for IHS health care facilities was approximately $3.5 billion in FY 2008.

A drinking water crisis also plagues Indian Country. According to IHS, safe and adequate water supply and waste disposal facilities are lacking in approximately 11 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native homes, compared to one percent for the general U.S. population. In some areas of Indian Country, this figure is as high as 35 percent. The lack of a reliable potable water supply in Indian Country results in a high incidence of disease and infection attributable to waterborne contaminants. IHS estimates that for every dollar it spends on safe drinking water and sewage systems, it achieves at least a twentyfold return in health benefits. The agency estimates that the cost to provide all American Indians and Alaska Natives with safe drinking water and adequate sewage systems in their homes is over $2.3 billion. In addition to inadequate safe drinking water and sewage systems, many tribes face water supply shortages. The cost of constructing water supply infrastructure necessary to deliver water to these tribes will require an additional several billion dollars.

In order to begin to address these public safety, health care and water needs in Indian Country, Congress authorized $2,000,000,000 in appropriations for the Emergency Fund over a five-year period beginning October 1, 2008. To fulfill the intent of that authorization, we respectfully request that you increase the 302(b) allocations for the Energy and Water Development; Commerce, Justice and Science; and the Interior and Environment Subcommittees so we can provide substantial funds for the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.


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