The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has released the following statement regarding the budget impasse and the shutdown of the federal government.
“The failure to come to a budget agreement threatens the capacity of tribal governments to deliver basic governmental services to their citizens. The federal government has made treaty commitments to our people, and in return we ceded the vast lands that make up the United States. The immediate shutdown crisis poses very real threats to tribal governments and denies health, nutrition, and other basic services to the most vulnerable tribal citizens.
“Even if the shutdown is resolved soon, a greater crisis remains – both the House and Senate versions of the Continuing Resolution sustained the devastating FY 2013 sequestration cuts. The sequester has deeply affected tribal programs: the Indian Health Service, Indian education funding streams, law enforcement, infrastructure programs such as housing and road maintenance, Head Start, and others. These funding commitments serve some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens and are part of the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribal nations.
“As Washington faces the threefold crisis of the shutdown, sequester, and debt limit, we call on the Congress to reach a long-term budget deal that meets the nation’s obligations to tribal nations and Native peoples. It is time to address the ongoing fiscal crisis caused by the sequester. The trust responsibility to tribal nations is not a line item and tribal programs must be exempt from budget cuts in any budget deal.”
In September, NCAI released a paper outlining the impacts of sequestration on tribal nations – Tribes Urge Congress to Honor Treaty Promises and Stop Sequestration.
Background on the impact of the government shutdown on tribal programs
In the 1995, 1996 shutdown, the impact on American Indian/other Native Americans was that all 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and an estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties.
With respect to funding for governmental services, more than half of the federally recognized tribes are self-governance and provide services to their citizens through contracts and compacts. If the shutdown is not reversed soon, these tribes and their citizens will be hit particularly hard. Based on the contingency plans for the Departments of Interior and Health and Human Services, IHS would continue to provide direct clinical health care services as well as referrals for contracted services that cannot be provided through IHS clinics. However, IHS would be unable to provide funding to tribes and urban Indian health programs, and would not perform national policy development and issuance, oversight, and other functions, except those necessary to meet the immediate needs of the patients, medical staff, and medical facilities.
With BIA, programs are funded and operated in a highly decentralized manner, with 62 percent of appropriations provided directly to tribes and tribal organizations through grants, contracts, and compacts. Officials said that if tribes have carryover, they can spend it, but tribes won’t receive any new money during a shutdown to reimburse tribes providing those services. While the role of Indian Affairs has changed significantly in the last three decades in response to increased utilization of Indian self-governance and self-determination, tribes still look to Indian Affairs for a broad spectrum of services. Fortunately, law enforcement and detention centers will remain operational, as will social services to protect children and adults. Firefighting, emergency response, and water and power should remain. However, trust asset management, such as lease compliance and real estate transactions would not.
Examples of impacts to tribal governmental services and other assistance to tribal citizens include:
— General assistance payments (BIA) to needy individuals and to vendors providing foster care and residential care for children and adults will stop, which will be difficult for many tribal communities. General assistance provides approximately $42 million for approximately 12,400 clients on a monthly basis. These clients include individuals and families whose income is below state standards and who do not qualify for state-operated programs. Provided that these individuals are facing some of the most difficult employment opportunities, the loss or delay of these payments truly impact the neediest in Indian country. Generally, disbursement of tribal funds for tribal operations including responding to tribal government requests will be halted.
— There will be new funds to support the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). While there would be some inventory available for use in food packages, no carryover, contingency, or other funds are available to support continued operations. The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) program is administered at the Federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. FDPIR is administered locally by either Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) or an agency of a State government. Currently, there are approximately 276 tribes receiving benefits under the FDPIR through 100 ITOs and 5 State agencies. FDPIR provides USDA Foods to low-income households living on Indian reservations, and to American Indian households residing in approved areas near reservations or in Oklahoma. Many households participate in FDPIR as an alternative to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), because they do not have easy access to SNAP offices or authorized food stores. Average monthly participation for FY 2012 was 76,530 individuals.
— The Administration for Children and Families would not continue quarterly formula grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care, Social Services Block Grant, Refugee Programs, Child Welfare Services and the Community Service Block Grant programs. Additionally new discretionary grants, including Head Start and social services programs, would not be made.
A NCAI press release.