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Budget restorations leave work to be done

WASHINGTON - The Congressional Native American Caucus has advised the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior of its views on the president's fiscal year 2008 budget proposals for the BIA and the IHS. The caucus urged funding for a number of programs targeted by President Bush for severe reductions or elimination altogether.

Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., a longstanding champion of tribal interests in the House of Representatives, chairs the subcommittee on Interior. His presence, along with a handful of tribal allies on the full ''approps'' committee and the general disposition of a Democrat-majority Congress, led several lobbyists to conclude that the restorations are the next thing to being signed, sealed and delivered on the House side. For the FY '08 federal budget to be enacted, the House and Senate will have to agree.

Among the restorations: United Tribes Technical College and Crownpoint Institute of Technology can count on funding that had been zeroed out in the president's budget; likewise for urban IHS clinics, the Fire Protection Public Safety program and the Johnson O'Malley supplemental education grants program. Tribal court, IHS contract support cost, IHS health facilities construction and BIA school construction budgets would see increases over the president's more modest proposals.

Debbie Ho, a top lobbyist with Ietan Consulting Group in Washington, said her attention now turns to programs for ''the poorest of the poor'' that were zeroed out in the president's budget request. She especially hopes to help put funding for the Home Improvement Program and social services on a more solid footing. HIP helps impoverished tribal members keep their houses habitable; the administration considers it duplicative funding, a notion disputed by Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele, among others. ''These programs are designed and administered to serve Tribal members with distinctly different needs,'' Steele stated in written testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, ''thus there can be no duplication of service or overlap in eligibility.''

Ho said the ''inside baseball'' perspective on the zeroed-out HIP and social services line items is that the administration expected Congress to restore them. But the people served by the programs are too stressed with getting by to organize a presence for themselves in Washington, and too penurious to hire lobbyists. If Washington doesn't hear from a constituency when its funding is cut, Ho explained, the assumption is that the cuts are OK.

She hopes to participate in an advocacy circle that will let Washington hear from ''the poorest of the poor'' on a regular basis.