Presentation of the colors at Riverside Indian School, a Bureau of Indian Education institution in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Photo: Office of Public Affairs - Indian Affairs

Indian Country sees 'real progress' with $1.3 trillion spending bill

Lawmakers reject spending cuts sought by President Trump

Increases for Indian schools, tribal courts and victims of crime included in $1.3 trillion omnibus
By Kevin Abourezk

A 10 percent increase for the Indian Health Service.

A 7 percent increase for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education.

More money for tribal infrastructure, public safety and economic development.

Buried within the massive $1.3 trillion federal spending bill are increases for numerous Indian programs, representing a powerful rebuff to budget cuts proposed by President Donald Trump to many of those same programs.

“This bill represents real progress for Indian Country, significantly increasing our investments in Native health care, infrastructure, economies and communities,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in a statement. “It rejects the president’s dangerous proposed budget cuts and instead provides funding increases that will lead to healthier communities and better outcomes across Indian Country.”

The Omnibus: Lawmakers reject Trump cuts with increases for Indian programs

The House approved H.R.1625, the bipartisan Consolidated Appropriations Act, on Thursday and the Senate approved it early Friday morning. After initially threatening to veto it because of its lack of funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump signed the bill Friday, averting another government shutdown.

More than a year ago, Trump had proposed sweeping cuts to Indian programs, including $303 million less for the BIA and $251 million less for IHS.

The federal spending bill approved this week by Congress includes $3.1 billion for the BIA – a $204 million increase – and $5.5 billion for IHS, a $498 million increase from earlier levels.

The bill will provide boosts to tribal infrastructure, including a 59 percent increase in funding for IHS facilities, 78 percent increase in Bureau of Indian Education funding, 84 percent increase in funding for BIA irrigation and water projects, and 212 percent increase in BIA public safety facilities.

It includes additional funds to help tribes fight opioid abuse and address behavioral health challenges, including a 6 percent increase for mental health services and a 4 percent increase for alcohol and substance abuse programs for IHS.

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It will set aside for tribes $50 million within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Opioid Response Grant Fund and another $5 million within SAMHSA’s Medication-Assisted Treatment for Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Program.

The bill includes a 5 percent increase in public safety funding for tribal law enforcement, authorization of funding for school security and a first-ever 3 percent tribal set-aside within the Crime Victims Fund that will provide tribal funding for victim resources.

"As members of Congress, we have an obligation to meet the safety and justice needs of Indian Country,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) in a statement. “I am proud that we are taking a big step forward today by allowing tribal nations, whose communities suffer from the highest rates of victimization in the country, to directly access the Crime Victims Fund and build a better network of support and services for survivors.”

Other increases include:
· $322 million more for IHS infrastructure, including $5 million to begin design of the Alamo IHS Health Clinic in New Mexico
· $2 million for the Gallup Detox Center in New Mexico
· $914 million, or 2.5 percent more, for Indian Education programs at the Department of Interior.
· $180 million, or 9 percent more, for Elementary and Secondary Indian Education Programs at the Department of Education.
· $2 million for the BIA for Violence Against Women Act implementation.
· $9 million more for the BIA for criminal investigations and police services.
· $55.5 million, or $10 million more, for Indian land and water claims settlements, including $21.7 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and $4 million for the Navajo Water Resources Development Trust Fund.
· $24.6 million for irrigation project construction – four times the FY 2017 funding level – and $38.2 million for dam safety projects.
· $3.4 million in new funding is included to implement the NATIVE Act to promote tribal tourism and economic development. The act requires agencies with tourist assets to include tribes and Native organizations in national tourism efforts and strategic planning.
· $2 million in additional funding for anti-trafficking enforcement, including work to address the rampant problem of counterfeit Native American art in New Mexico and across the country.

The spending bill also calls on the administration to work more closely with tribes in implementing broader programs, such as border control. The bill supports the transfer of funds from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the BIA for the reconstruction or repair of BIA-owned roads needed as a result of cooperative security efforts on the border.

The bill also maintains financial support at current levels for the Tiwahe initiative, a program begun under the Obama administration that integrates social services and job training programs in order to address poverty and family welfare. Another $3 million will be provided to reduce recidivism through the Tiwahe initiative.

The spending bill provides another $13 million to address the needs of tribes affected by Public Law 280, which allows states to assume jurisdiction over reservation Indians. Tribes in states where that law has been implemented have long expressed frustration that it has led to decreased funding and opportunities to grow their tribal court systems.

Congressional leaders called on the BIA to work with tribes and Native organizations in Public Law 280 states, which include Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon and Wisconsin, to consider ways to promote tribal court systems that are subject to full or partial state jurisdiction. Public Law 280 allows states to take over prosecution of most crimes that occur on reservations within their borders.

Lawmakers also called on the BIA to work with tribes, whose federal recognition was terminated but later restored, to help them secure law enforcement funding through self-determination contracts.

The spending bill also expresses support for Native language preservation and revitalization efforts and provides $2 million for capacity building grants to BIA- and tribally operated schools to expand existing language immersion programs or create new ones.

Congressional leaders also expressed concern in the spending bill over the administration’s handling of Indian programs, including the Bureau of Indian Education, and lawmakers called on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to reorganize the BIA to consolidate control and accountability of the BIE within that department. Lawmakers cited Government Accountability Office reports that have detailed problems within the K-12 Indian education system related to organizational structure, accountability, finance, health and safety, and student performance.

“As the department takes steps to reform the system, the secretary is reminded that future support from Congress will continue to be based in large part upon successful implementation of GAO report recommendations,” lawmakers wrote in a report accompanying the spending bill.

Lawmakers also set aside $58 million to address “accreditation emergencies” created when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services terminates Medicare or Medicaid agreements with IHS or tribally operated health care facilities. And they expressed concern about deficiencies recently identified at the Gallup Indian Medical Center by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Joint Commission and called on IHS to ensure patient safety and quality health care at that facility.

Udall complimented Congressional leaders for making “crucial infrastructure improvements across Indian Country,” including funding for the repair and replacement of tribal hospitals, schools, public safety and justice facilities, and irrigation and dam safety projects.

“Looking forward, we need to build on this strong foundation to ensure that we better meet our responsibilities to tribes,” he said.

Relevant Documents:
House Committee on Appropriations Press Release: Government-Wide Funding Legislation Released
Highlights: Fiscal Year 2018 Interior and Environment Bill
Bill Text - Division G | Bill Report - Division G
Rep. Nita Lowey statement on FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act

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