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Appropriations committee directs $2.8 billion to tribal economic recovery

WASHINGTON – Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced Jan. 27 that his and other senators’ calls to include investments toward Indian country economic recovery are reflected in legislation approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In a press release, Dorgan said the goals of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are to create jobs and invest in national infrastructure. To specifically address these concerns in Indian country, the bill includes more than $2.8 billion in improvements for Indian health care, education, roads and bridges, water, public safety and housing.

“Nowhere in this nation are jobs and construction improvements more needed than on American Indian reservations,” Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and member of the appropriations committee that approved the legislation, said. “Tribal communities suffer 50 percent unemployment rates and longstanding construction needs.”

The bill’s overall price tag stands at $825 billion and will soon be voted on by the full Senate. On Jan. 28 the House of Representatives passed an $819 billion economic stimulus on a party-line vote.

Dorgan hailed the $2.8 billion set-aside as progress. Still, the number falls short of even his recent requests for Indian country economic recovery.

Earlier this month, Dorgan and 14 other senators from both parties urged then President-elect Barack Obama to include a $3.58 billion investment in Indian country as part of the economic stimulus bill.

The committee’s number also stands far short of tribal leaders’ hopes. In testimony before SCIA Jan. 15, National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson Pata requested $6.12 billion for tribal government infrastructure investment to be included in the government’s plan.

Despite the differences in hope and reality, Dorgan framed the development as positive. He added in his statement that many tribal projects are “ready to go” and awaiting funding.

“They also have the advantage, in many cases, of being investments that will not only put people to work right away, but that will provide a big boost to local economies once they are completed.”

The committee’s stimulus plan for tribes would direct $545 million toward Indian health services; $530 million for housing; $486.8 million for roads and bridges; $459 million for water projects; $327 million for schools and education; and $325 million for public safety.

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