Bush signs $2B boost for Indian Country into law
Indian Country will benefit from a $2 billion infusion in law enforcement, health and water funds under a bill signed into law on Wednesday.

The unexpected boost was quickly passed by the Senate and the House earlier this month. It's part of a $50 billion global health bill that supporters said should also help the first Americans.

"There are reservations in this country where conditions are as dire as any place in the world," said Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), who led the push for the money as part of S.2731.

In signing the bill into law, President Bush didn't mention the $2 billion for Indian communities. But he thanked Senate and House leaders for passing the package, which supports one of his global health priorities.

The amendment offers $750 million to public safety initiatives, another $250 million for health care and $1 billion for water development projects that have already been approved by Congress. Once appropriated, the money will be available in the fiscal year that starts in October, so the impact will be immediate.

The $750 million for law enforcement will be split between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice.. The amendment directs the spending as follows:
  • $370 million for detention facility construction, rehabilitation, and placement through the Department of Justice;
  • $310 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Public Safety and Justice Account, which funds tribal police and tribal courts;
  • $30 million for investigations and prosecution of crimes in Indian Country by the FBI and U.S. Attorneys;
  • $30 million for the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Program for Indian and Alaska Native Programs; and,
  • $10 million for cross-deputization or other cooperative agreements between state, local, and tribal governments.
  • The $250 million for health is directed to the IHS. The agency will determine how to split the money between contract health service, construction and rehabilitation of facilities and construction of sanitation facilities.

    The Senate and House are considering additional legislation to improve law and order in Indian Country. Among other provisions, S.3320 seeks to improve detention facilities, increase tribal powers, encourage tribal-federal coordination, beef up tribal courts and address domestic violence.

    According to government reports, American Indians and Alaska Natives suffer from the highest rates of violent crime in the country. Native women are more likely to be the victims of sexual assaults, rapes and domestic violence than any other racial or ethnic group.

    Despite the problem, funding for law enforcement at the BIA has remained flat over the past few years. The agency was recently pressured into spending $1 million just to cover officers on one reservation for a 90-day period.

    Current and former BIA officials estimate they are only meeting about half of the need for officers on the ground.

    Likewise, detention facilities remain overcrowded, understaffed and in poor condition. A report commissioned by the BIA cites a $8.4 billion backlog in construction, rehabilitation and staffing.

    Relevant Documents:
    President Bush Signs H.R. 5501, the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008 (July 30, 2008)

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