Victoria Kitcheyan, the treasurer for the Winnebago Tribe, addresses a meeting at the White House on September 12, 2017. Photo: U.S. Indian Affairs

Trump administration embraces spending bill with increases for Indian programs

Just a few months after calling for drastic cuts to health, education, social service and other programs in Indian Country, the Trump administration has changed course.

Tribal leaders and their allies in Congress voiced alarms when President Donald Trump sought a $300 million reduction at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, whose budget has barely kept up with inflation. The Indian Health Service also was slated for cuts in fiscal year 2018 even though it has long suffered from inadequate funding.

But the White House is now embracing a spending bill that provides increases for the BIA and the IHS. A statement of administration policy formally announced the new administration's support for H.R.3354, the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act.

The bill represents a "strong step toward fulfilling the President’s promise to put the safety of the American people first," the September 5 statement read, a seemingly direct contradiction of Trump's budget proposal.

Despite the shift in thinking, few in Indian Country are complaining. Tribal leaders repeatedly described Trump's proposal "dead on arrival" after it was released in May.

"Wee need more funding," Victoria Kitcheyan, the treasurer for the Winnebago Tribe, said from Washington, D.C., where she shared similar views with the Trump team during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday.

The sentiment was heard by key members of Congress, especially those on the House Committee on Appropriations and its Interior subcommittee. They held a marathon series of hearings in May, where they took testimony from more than 75 Indian Country leaders who expressed the need for increased funding.

"The federal government has a legal and moral obligation to provide quality services to American Indians and Alaska Natives," the committee said in a report accompanying H.R.3354. "On a nonpartisan basis, the committee continues to protect and, where possible, strengthen the budgets for Indian Country programs in this bill in order to address longstanding and underfunded needs"

"The increased funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service is critical to fulfilling our federal trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations, including support for health care, education, and public safety," Democrats wrote in a separate "dissenting" section of the report.

Despite the bipartisan spirit on the Appropriations panel, Democrats staged a symbolic revolt against H.R.3354 on Thursday. All of them -- except for one -- voted against the bill when it came up for final passage in the House. They had instead tried to "recommit" the bill in hopes of adding even more funding to the package, a move opposed by Republicans.

But with passage of the bill, lawmakers have made progress after years of being unable to pass the appropriations bills needed to keep the government up and running. Overall, H.R.3354 includes $1.2 trillion in spending.

"“Today, the people’s House passed all 12 funding bills on time. Let me just say that again," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), the Speaker of the House, said during a press conference on Thursday. "The reason you see these men and women up here is we passed all 12 of our appropriations bills on time. This is the first time the House has done that since 2009."

The Senate still must act before the funding increases for the BIA, the IHS and other Indian programs become final. Lawmakers hope to finalize work before December, when a temporary spending bill expires.

According to the report accompanying H.R.3354, the BIA will be funded with $2.36 billion. That represents a $22.87 million increase from 2017 levels and a $279.7 million increase over Trump's proposal.

Within that amount, lawmakers included increases for the Bureau of Indian Education, construction and land and water settlements. The Indian Guaranteed Loan Program also would see more support after facing a cut under Trump's request.

The IHS would see $3.87 billion if H.R.3354 becomes law as written. The figure represents a $173.8 million increase over current levels and $292.9 million more than Trump's budget. It includes increases for staffing, a health care disparities fund and dental health.

Additional documents about H.R.3354, the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018 [Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, 2018], can be found at

Department of the Interior Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Documents:
Bureau of Indian Affairs Budget Justifications "Greenbook" | Budget in Brief |Indian Affairs Highlights | Department Office Highlights [includes Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians]

Department of Health and Human Services Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Documents:
Budget in Brief | Indian Health Service Justification

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