Resolution buys time for vulnerable programs

By Alysa Landry
Special to the Times

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2013

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A resolution President Barack Obama signed last Wednesday is expected to buy time for federal programs on which American Indians rely heavily.

Congress last week passed a six-month stopgap spending measure that will fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. That means funding is extended for another six months for programs including Indian Health Service, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Child Care Entitlement to States.

The $984 billion "continuing resolution" also means some furloughs and funding crises across the nation are averted as Congress looks for a more permanent solution.

Although the measure means some good news for tribes, it is not the solution Obama hoped for because it covers only the next six months and because it means deeper cuts - 1.9 to 2.5 percent - to some programs in order to extend funding to others.

For example, appropriations for the Interior and the environment took the biggest cuts at $779 million, while transportation and housing programs saw the greatest increase at $385 million, the measure states.

The Indian Health Service will get an additional $53 million to staff newly constructed facilities. The IHS was expecting severe cuts under the sequester, including an estimated 203 jobs lost on the Navajo Nation alone.

The resolution, which prevents a partial government shutdown, comes as America was bracing itself for $85 billion in automatic budget cuts over the next seven months. Known as the sequester, the cuts that went into effect March 1 were part of a plan to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

The spending measure maintains funding for a number of agencies and programs at fiscal year 2012 levels, but still includes cuts for other programs. By passing the measure, Congress took control over which programs saw bigger cuts. The sequester called for across-the-board cuts without discretion, meaning all programs saw equal losses.

American Indian groups across the country spoke against the sequester, claiming it violated treaties that bound the federal government to fund programs.

The spending measure addresses these issues temporarily by extended funding for some of the most vulnerable programs, said Clara Pratte, executive director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office.

"It's not the extent of the cut we feared it was going to be," she said. "It's the best scenario now. This will get us through to the end of September, but there's not much room for advance planning."

Navajo officials did not have additional information on how the spending measure will affect the tribe.

"When Washington gets the details, we will get the details," said LoRenzo Bates, chairman of the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee.

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