Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye poses with Tara Sweeney, the Trump administration's nominee to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, in Washington, D.C., onn May 9, 2018. Sweeney awaits confirmation to the post. Photo: Jared King / Navajo Nation Washington Office

Tribes continue to rely on key lawmakers for help with funding

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With few people in their corner in the Trump administration, tribes are once again relying on Congress to fulfill the federal government's trust and treaty responsibilities.

For two years in a row, President Donald Trump has tried to slash funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, the two agencies most closely tied to tribal communities. And key lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, continue to reject those cuts.

"Be assured that the American Indian and Alaska Native programs will continue to be a non-partisan priority," Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), the chairman of the House subcommittee that writes the funding bill for the BIA and the IHS, said last Wednesday.

For two days last week, Calvert's panel heard from an impressive slate of Indian Country leaders from every region of the nation. One after one, they stressed the need for adequate health, education, social service and other funds in their communities.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: American Indian/Alaska Native Public Witnesses May 9, 2018 AM Session

"Please reject the proposed 27 percent cut for the Indian Child Welfare Act," said Deana M. Bovee, the chairwoman of the Susanville Indian Rancheria, based in California. The reduction is contained in Trump's fiscal year 2019 budget request for the BIA.

"We estimate that we have an unmet need of over 300 percent and and increase is needed to meet the minimum ICWA- related needs for our tribal children and families," Bovee continued, noting that her tribe handles an average of 12 Indian Child Welfare Act cases a month.

And as tribes outlined their priorities, many were more than willing to give credit where credit is due. With the most recent #Omnibus spending package, which became law in March, they said the legislative branch keeps delivering for Indian Country.

"The increases, categorically across the board, made a big difference and brought a lot of smiles across Indian Country," observed Ron Allen, the longtime chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, based in Washington state.

"We're very appreciative of it," Allen said.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: American Indian/Alaska Native Public Witnesses May 9, 2018 PM Session

The release of the fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill for the BIA, the IHS and other key agencies is bound to bring more of those smiles. After dozens of Indian Country leaders made their case to the subcommittee on Wednesday and Thursday, lawmakers and their staffs quickly got to work on the draft package, which they unveiled late Monday afternoon.

The bill, as currently written, provides $3.1 billion for the BIA, a figure that represents a complete rebuke to Trump. He sought to cut more than $450 million from the agency with his 2019 budget request.

The measure also provides $5.9 billion for the IHS. That represents a whopping $370 million increase above current levels and, again, it's more than Trump was seeking for the agency.

"Rest assured, this committee will keep our treaty obligations," Calvert said during the tribal testimony last week.

"I know we get recommendations from folks down the street," he added, referring to the White House, "but we'll work together and work this out and I'm sure we'll have a positive outcome."

American Indian/Alaska Native Public Witnesses May 10, 2018 AM Session

Despite the work of Calvert's panel, Indian Country can't be guaranteed that the funding bill will become law before the start of fiscal year 2019 on October 1. That's because Congress, as a whole, hasn't been able to pass an Interior appropriations measure in more than a decade.

Instead, lawmakers have resorted to the massive and lengthy omnibus measures. The last one clocked in at 2,232 pages and Trump threw a tantrum after it was presented to him for his signature.

"I say to Congress: I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again," Trump said back in March. "Nobody read it."

Even though Trump signed the measure, he later threatened to rescind some of the 2019 spending increases, an idea quickly shot down by lawmakers from both parties. He has since sent a different budget proposal to Capitol Hill, though the Congressional Budget Office has said it won't save as much as the White House has anticipated.

The draft 2019 Interior bill, for the record, comes in at 144 pages.

The next step for the bill is a subcommittee markup, which is taking place late Tuesday afternoon. The House Committee on Appropriations is then expected to approve the bill in June, with the hopes of getting it passed in the House before the end of the summer.

House Committee on Appropriations Notice:
Subcommittee Markup - FY 2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (May 15, 2018)

Relevant Documents:
Press Release: Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2019 Interior and Environment Bill | Draft Fiscal Year 2019 Interior and Environment Bill

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