Bush budget restricts spending on Indian Country
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While providing for historic increases in trust reform, President Bush's new budget cuts funds to key Indian programs and includes little or no growth for some of his priorities.

Education, housing and the environment were some of the areas hit in the $2.23 trillion package, which anticipates a $307 billion deficit. Compared to levels that Congress is prepared to enact this year, funding for some Indian-related projects was reduced as much as 80 percent.

"I believe this may be the most reckless budget a president has ever proposed," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in a conference call on Friday.

Post-secondary education is among the casualties. Although the nation's 34 colleges are experiencing record enrollment, they will see an overall 10 percent cut at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Funding is being eliminated altogether at some institutions, like the $3 million at United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota.

There is a similar story at the Department of Education. A week before the budget was released, Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced what he said was a 5 percent increase in tribal college grants.

Compared to the amount contained in the spending bill nearing approval in Congress, the $19 million request for fiscal year 2004 is actually a 17 percent cut. The administration, however, compared it to the amount sought in 2003 rather than appropriated.

Some K-12 education programs at the BIA will be seeing improvements, like a $6.8 million increase for operation of 185 schools that serve 50,000 students. But funding to replace dilapidated schools, Bush's only campaign promise to Indian Country, won't see any gains. The BIA also hasn't updated its construction priority list since former assistant secretary Kevin Gover left office more than two years ago.

Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) was pleased nonetheless, citing five schools in his state that will be replaced. "Providing decent schools is the least we owe to Native American children," he said.

In terms of housing, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget reduces tribal housing subsidies and loan guarantees by 50 percent, a cut attributed to unused funds from years prior. The National Indian Housing Council, meanwhile, estimates that it will take $1 billion to provide at least 200,000 homes to relieve homelessness, overcrowding and inadequate housing in Indian Country.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), funding to ensure safe water, reduce air pollution and clean up toxic sites in Indian Country has been stagnant for two years. The new budget repeats that trend and introduces a $362 million cut to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which helps tribes and states construct drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.

The 2004 request is $850 million, of which which tribes only receive 1 1/2 percent, or $12.75 million. But the EPA and Indian Health Service (IHS) estimate that need of at least $600 million. Money for Alaska Native villages, which trail Indian households in the lower 48 in terms of sanitation, stays the same at $40 million.

The notable increase at EPA is for general assistance grants, which help tribes maintain an environmental staff. The 2004 request is $62.5 million, $5 million above current levels and $10 million above the 2002 level, restoring increases that started at the end of the Clinton administration.

Relevant Documents:
Department of Interior Budget | Department of Housing and Urban Development Budget | Environmental Protection Agency Budget

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