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Report documents unmet needs in Indian Country

Direct funding for tribal governments has fallen over the past five years despite overall increases in the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget, according to a new report from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Tribal priority allocation funds, also known as TPA, are considered critical in Indian Country. Lacking other revenue sources such as taxes, tribes used the money to carry out day-to-day governmental functions and provide services to tribal members.

But over the past five years, the percentage of BIA funds provided to tribes has dropped, the report states. Although the trend started during the Clinton administration, it will reach an all-time low in fiscal year 2004, the report continues.

"Inadequate funding is scheduled to continue into 2004 in several programs, including TPA and initiatives supporting public safety, education, and economic development," the commission's draft report, which was presented last Friday, reads. "Although TPA is targeted for an additional $5 million, it requires $25 million or 400 percent more funding than has been proposed."

Between 1998 and 2003, tribal priority allocation funds totaled $4.5 billion, a yearly average of $749 million, according to the report. During that same time frame, BIA's budget has grown from $1.7 billion to $2.3 billion.

But TPA funds have not kept up , the report notes. In 1998, the TPA account composed 42 percent of the BIA's budget. By 2001, it was only 33 percent.

The Bush administration plans to provide between $777 million to $800 million directly to tribes, depending on how the figures are calculated. But when cost-of-living increases are factored in, tribes should be receiving $1 billion in 2004, the report concludes.

"When adjusting for inflation, the impact of TPA funding shortfalls becomes more evident," the report states. "The TPA budget has diminished the real spending power of tribal governments dramatically. Tribal governments do not receive funds at the rate of inflation, and they have also been losing real spending power at a dramatic rate."

The report only deals briefly with the reason why TPA funds have not kept up with the BIA's budget. But tribal leaders have made no secret that they blame the spiraling costs of trust reform on their dwindling pot of money.

In 2004, trust reform will see a major increase of more than $400 million. The bulk of the money is going to the Office of Special Trustee, which does not provide direct funding to tribes. And while the BIA's budget will grow by about $62 million, the bulk will go to trust reform.

The issue has been of significant debate in recent months, with Department of Interior officials denying tribal claims that money is being taken away from Indian programs. Both the House and Senate, however, are considering appropriations bills that strip more than $75 million from the trust reform increase, parceling it out to education and other areas.

At the same time, the majority of the BIA's budget still goes to Indian Country. Although the ongoing reorganization will beef up central office operations in Washington, D.C., most of money is not spent on administrative costs.

Get the Report:
A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country (July 16, 2003)

Related Stories:
Congress hacks Bush's accounting funds (7/16)
BIA's Martin breaks unofficial boycott of NCAI (06/17)
Indian employees challenging DOI reorganization (06/03)
Tribes stress unity on trust reform solutions (5/30)
NCAI's Hall stands by trust reform testimony (5/28)
Reorganization: Meet the 'new' OST (5/28)
Tribes oppose OST expansion into Indian County (5/22)
Swimmer: Don't fear changes at Interior (5/22)
On trust, Swimmer turns to private sector (5/14)
Reorganization: Meet the 'new' BIA (04/30)
DOI begins second transition period on Indian affairs (04/29)
Bunker metality evident in trust reform fight (04/22)
White House asked to bring DOI to the table (02/25)
Trust programs see historic increase (2/4)

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