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Appropriations bill includes boosts for Indian Country programs

Filed Under: Health | National | Politics | Federal Recognition
More on: appropriations, barack obama, betty mccollum, bia, bie, doi, fy2017, house, ihs, ken calvert, republicans
     
   

A crowd enters the Pueblo Pavilion at Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico for commencement ceremonies on May 26, 2016. The school is part of the Bureau of Indian Education system and the agency would see a boost under the fiscal year 2017 Interior appropriations bill. Photo from Facebook

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hoping to get the troubled appropriations process back on track this year, an effort that could benefit a slew of Indian Country programs.

The fiscal year 2017 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill cleared its first markup last Wednesday amid bipartisan support for increases at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service. According to Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), the BIA budget is growing by 3 percent while the IHS is growing by 6 percent.

The IHS amount in fact represents the "largest increase in the bill," said Calvert, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

"The bill fully funds contract support costs and tribal grant school support costs, provides funding to staff newly constructed health facilities, addresses the rising costs of medical inflation, improves public safety" and invests more money in the Bureau of Indian Education, he said.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), the panel's ranking Democrat, welcomed the subcommittee's dedication to "our Native American brothers and sisters." But she said her Republican colleagues failed to include all of the requests sought by President Barack Obama for the BIA, the IHS and other Indian programs.


Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Appropriations Subcommittee Markup Fiscal Year 2017 Interior and Environment Bill

"Even with this increase, funding for Native American programs is still $172 million less than the administration's request," McCollum said at the markup.

The bill sets funding for the BIA at $2.9 billion, an increase of $72 million from the fiscal year 2016 level. Obama, on the other hand, had requested an increase of about $137 million.

Discretionary funding for the IHS comes in at $5.1 billion, an increase of $271 million from the 2016 level. In contrast,
Obama had sought an increase of about $377 million.

Despite the differences, Indian Country fared better than most other areas. When the levels for the BIA, the IHS, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and other related agencies are taken into account, McCollum said the bill includes an additional $443 million for these programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in comparison, has been subjected to a whopping $164 million cut. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Land and Water Conservation Fund are also seeing decreases.


YouTube: Subcommittee Markup: FY17 Interior and Environment Bill

McCollum also said the bill was filled with a slew of negative policy riders -- she called them "veto bait" -- that aren't about funding at all. One of them bars the BIA from implementing the long-overdue Part 83 reforms reforms to the federal acknowledgment process.

Last year, Obama threatened to veto the Interior appropriations bill because it did not include the increases he sought at the BIA and the IHS. The White House also questioned numerous policy riders, including one that targeted the same federal recognition reforms.

But a showdown never materialized because Republican leaders in the House pulled the funding bill due to an unrelated dispute over the Confederate flag. When the House>omnibus appropriations package finally surfaced last December, it included only modest gains for the BIA and the IHS and the recognition rider didn't show up at all.

While this year's appropriations bills are moving forward, Republican leaders failed to pass a budget resolution amid opposition from fiscal conservatives within the party. The lack of a guiding document could hinder efforts to increase Indian program levels as the process continues.

The next step for the Interior bill would be consideration by the full House Appropriations Committee. A markup hasn't been scheduled but it typically happens in June.

House Appropriations Committee Documents:
Press Release | PDF: Full Draft

FY2017 Interior Department Budget Documents:
Budget in Brief | Strengthening Tribal Nations and Insular Communities | Indian Affairs | DOI Fact Sheet

FY2017 Indian Health Service Budget Documents:
Budget Request | Budget Justification | HHS Budget In Brief

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