White House: Tribes fare well in 2012 budget

By Carolyn Calvin
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Feb. 17, 2011

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Tribes fared "pretty well in light of tough decisions that had to be made" in President Barrack Obama's proposed fiscal year 2012 budget, according to White House officials.

In a conference call held with reporters on Tuesday, Kimberly Teehee, senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs, and Sally Ericsson, associate director for Natural Resources Programs, Office of Management and Budget, provided a brief overview of how Obama's proposed budget impacts Indian Country.

"Overall government-wide, spending actually increased over FY 2010 and FY 2011 continuing resolution levels," said Teehee.

"We all share in this responsibility," she said. "Government must function within its means."

Teehee said that the budget proposed for Native American programs is more than $19 billion, or $1 billon more than the fiscal year 2010 budget and $800 million more than fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution levels.

That number includes $4.6 billion for the Indian Health Service, an increase of 14 percent over the 2010 enacted level.

According to Teehee, the budget supports the Obama administration's commitment to implement the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act by continuing existing, and implementing new provisions in the act.

Some key education investments in the budget include maintaining Pell grants by sustaining the $5,550 maximum award, which Teehee said will help over 9 million students in 2012.

The budget also proposes to provide $125 million in the BIA to support post-secondary education for Native American students at 27 tribal colleges and universities, two tribal technical colleges, and two BIA-operated universities, as well as providing higher education scholarships to approximately 32,000 students.

In addition, the budget provides up to $60 million to support post-secondary education for Native American students as part of the Cobell settlement in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010.

Ericsson explained that within the Department of Justice, the budget proposes $424 million, a 29 percent increase over the 2010 enacted level, for criminal justice programs involving tribal areas.

Most of the increase, $63 million, is associated with a new flexible tribal grant program funded in the Office of Justice Programs, which will set-aside 7 percent of OJP's discretionary grant program funding and make it available to address public safety and tribal justice needs in Indian Country.

Included in the budget, Ericsson pointed out, is a request for $9 million for additional FBI agents to investigate crime in Indian Country.

Within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Obama administration proposes funding of $355 million to operate six new detention centers that were constructed with Recovery Act funds. It also increases funds for tribal courts and additional law enforcement officers, coordinates community policy programs to reduce crime, and protects natural resources in Indian Country.

Regarding housing, the Obama administration's proposed budget provides $700 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Native American Housing Block Grant program, equal to levels enacted in 2010.

In addition, the budget provides $65 million for HUD's Indian Community Development Block Grant program, which is a competitive program that provides funds to tribes for activities such as improving the housing stock, providing community facilities, making infrastructure improvements, and expanding job opportunities.

The Obama budget provides $273 million, an $11 million increase above FY 2010 enacted level, for environmental protection programs. This includes a $31 million increase for grant programs specifically targeted at tribes to develop and help implement environmental protection programs on tribal lands.

It also includes a $21 million reduction in funding for tribal water programs and infrastructure assistance, which reflects an overall reduction in EPA's Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.

Teehee said the Obama administration is working to bring Indian Country into the 21st Century by equipping them with access to the Internet.

Building on the nearly $7 billion the Recovery Act provided through the Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture that is expanding and improving broadband access in underserved areas, the budget proposes to invest $5 billion in the National Wireless Initiative to increase access to state-of-the-art 4G wireless networks to at least 98 percent of Americans, she said.

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