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A push for inclusion

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WASHINGTON – Indian country has been economically strained for decades and in today’s difficult times tribal governments are feeling the stress even more. President-Elect Barack Obama’s upcoming economic recovery plan holds promise that tribal governments will not be left out. The National Congress of American Indians, the largest and oldest American Indian organization, is working to ensure that the poorest of the poor will be included in the economic recovery plan.

“We are advocating that tribal governments be treated at the same level as state governments in the economic recovery plan by equally distributing funds to enable tribal governments to serve their citizens and allowing them access to capital,” said NCAI ExecutiveDirector Jacqueline Johnson Pata. “This country cannot move on economically without involving tribal governments.”

Historically tribes have lacked the infrastructure for basic needs. Roads and bridges on many reservations are comparable to those in developing countries. School buildings in tribal communities are in desperate need of repair. Tribal governments are requesting $5.4 billion in infrastructure spending.

“A tribal provision in the economic plan could mean funding for Indian healthcare programs, schools and job training projects,” said NCAI President Joe A. Garcia. “Indian country needs a chance to develop the systems to grow their local economies and Indian people deserve the opportunity for a secure future.”

Currently federal rules and regulations limit tribal government’s access to capital, expanding the use of tax-exempt bonds could leverage federal spending on infrastructure and economic development activities on reservations. A tribal economic recovery component could also expand loans and surety bonding for American Indian businesses.

According to the U.S. Census, in 2000 the per capita income for American Indians living on reservations was one-third of the U.S. average for all races. Low income coupled with high unemployment places an American Indian family at 36 percent of the poverty rate – two-and-a-half times the national average.

Obama’s economic stimulus package, to be introduced soon, is expected to include $300 billion in tax cuts and about $500 billion in spending.

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