President Barack Obama submitted his Fiscal Year 2017 proposal to Congress yesterday, and the budget has increased funding and support across the board for Indian country.
Most notable was his request of $13.4 billion for the Department of the Interior, an increase of $61 million over last year. This request supports meeting federal trust and treaty responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as conserving important landscapes across the Nation, investing in the next century of the National Park Service and more according, to an Interior press release.
“This is a smart, innovative and forward-looking budget that invests in Interior’s key missions – now and in the future – so we can continue to serve the American people,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in the release. “Consistent with the President’s abiding commitment to Indian country, this budget provides critical support for tribal self-determination and economic advancement, including a historic transformation of the Bureau of Indian Education school system to help improve education for Indian children.”
Overall, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the BIE would see a $137.6 million increase, for a total of $2.9 billion.
Obama’s proposed budget supports a comprehensive redesign and reform of the BIE that would “provide students attending BIE-funded schools with a world-class education, and transform the agency to serve as a capacity-builder and service-provider for tribes in educating their youth,” according to a White House release. According to the BIA release, the overhaul comes with a budget request of $1.1 billion for a multi-year transformation that includes program investments of $49.4 million to:
— Improve opportunities and outcomes in the classroom;
— Expand multi-generational programs to advance early childhood development;
— Provide improved educational instructional services and teacher quality;
— Promote enhanced language and culture programs;
— Enhance broadband and digital access;
— Support tribal control of student education.
The White House release states that total funding for BIE elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools is $912 million, an increase of $60 million. There is also $138 million in the budget for education construction to improve school infrastructure and facilities. A proposed $25 million for extending broadband internet and computer access throughout BIE-funded schools and dormitories was also included in the budget.
Obama points out that there are currently almost 470,000 Native students in schools throughout the U.S. that will significantly benefit from the $15.4 billion for the ED’s Title I program. The $450 million increase supports the country’s largest K-12 grant program that is the cornerstone of the administration’s commitment to supporting low-income schools with the funding necessary to provide high-need students with access to an excellent education the White House said. Preschool Development Grants would see an increase of $100 million, to a total of $350 million, that would help states, BIE and Tribal Educational Agencies. The ED’s Native Youth Community Projects initiative sees a proposed budget that more than doubles the FY 2016 amount of $23 million at $53 million that would “better support comprehensive, community-driven strategies to improve college and career-readiness of Native youth.”
Specific requests in the budget highlight the important role of tribal post-secondary education as Haskell Indian Nations University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute would see a $2 million increase, while an additional $500,000 would go to United Tribes Technical College and Navajo Technical University – both funded by BIE according to the BIA release.
Obama’s continued push for improved education for Native youth, an issue he’s been strongly supporting since visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota in 2014, sees $6.8 million in program increases for tribally controlled, post-secondary education scholarships.
Improving Indian Health Service
For years, health care in Indian country has been underfunded.
Obama’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017 includes an increase of $402 million, to $6.6 billion, for the Indian Health Service – a 53 percent increase since FY 2008.
“The proposal addresses long-standing health disparities among American Indians and Alaska Natives, compared with other Americans, and a renewed focus on quality of care at IHS,” according to an IHS release.
“This budget accurately reflects the challenges the Indian health system faces in providing comprehensive health care and public health services in some of the most remote parts of our country,” said Robert G. McSwain, IHS principal deputy director. “As IHS responds to improving quality of care – from new requirements for health information technology to the federal government’s commitment to honor the sovereign rights of tribes by fully funding Contract Support Costs – these resources are necessary to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.”
The proposed IHS budget includes $363 million to expand successful substance abuse, behavioral health and domestic violence programs, more specifically: Generation Indigenous ($15-plus million); Zero Suicide ($4-plus million); Youth Regional Treatment Centers aftercare ($2-plus million); integration of behavioral health with primary care services ($21-plus million); and Domestic Violence Prevention Program ($4-plus million).
An additional $15-plus million is proposed to create a Tribal Crisis Response Fund through the Mandatory Proposal for Mental Health Initiatives. The TCRF will assist “tribal communities with specialized crisis response staffing, technical assistance and community engagement services in the aftermath of behavioral health crises such as mass shootings, high rates of alcohol- and drug-related deaths, school violence, suicide clusters and other emergencies,” the IHS release stated.
Included within the IHS budget proposal is Contract Support Costs estimated at $800 million for the full cost. The budget also includes a proposal to reclassify CSC as a mandatory appropriation beginning in FY 2018.
If services are unavailable within the Indian health system at IHS-funded facilities Natives often look to purchase health care services outside the system and within the budget those resources would see an increase.
The budget also proposes to extend the 100 percent Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for services provided to American Indians and Alaska Natives through IHS under the Medicaid program. The expansion would cover the entire Indian health system, including Urban Indian Health Programs, and would bring the federal match to UIHPs in line with current law for IHS and other tribally-operated programs.
Other Areas of Note
— Social Services in Indian country sees a proposed increase of $204 million to $971 million at HHS.
— The Tiwahe Initiative would see $141 million, a $21 million increase.
— HUD’s Native American Housing Block Grant program sees $700 million – a $50 million increase.
— Stewardship of trust resources, the budget proposes $377 million for BIA to support tribes in managing resources and for trust real estate services – a $33 million increase.
— $29 million will be provided to the BIA to support tribal communities preparing for and responding to impacts of climate change – a $17 million increase.
— Tribal water rights see a $5 million increase for a total of $216 million for work supporting settlements and management.
— EPA will provide $96.4 million – a $31 million increase – for the Tribal General Assistance Program.
— Energy development. The Budget funds the DOI Indian Energy Service Center at $5 million and the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy at $18 million.
— Building Capacity and Critical Infrastructure in Alaska Native Villages. The budget provides more than $100 million across several federal agencies to support planning and infrastructure in high-need villages.
In November of 2015, President Obama expressed the need to work together in building a better future at the White House Tribal Nations Conference. This budget is another step towards that goal in the final months of the Obama Administration.
“I’ve often acknowledged the painful history, the broken promises that are part of our past. And I’ve said that while we couldn’t change the past, working together, nation-to-nation, we could build a better future. I believed this not only because America has a moral obligation to do right by the tribes and treaty obligations, but because the success of our tribal communities is tied up with the success of America as a whole," Obama said in November.