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Economic town hall meetings held in N.M. Indian country

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico Lt. Gov. Diane Denish joined forces with members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation to bring word of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to the state’s rural areas.

Denish’s Rural Economic Recovery Initiative helped rural areas understand how to access some of the $74 billion available through ARRA at economic town hall meetings. In addition, the Department of Justice recently announced that $248 million in funding has been set aside for tribes around the country, including New Mexico, comprised of $225 million for

correctional facilities on tribal lands, $20.8 million for Indian tribal government grants and $2.8 million for tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions grants.

The town hall tour targeted local and tribal governments, universities and nonprofit organizations that may have interest in applying for grants. Denish began the tour in Gallup and Grants, which are adjacent to the Navajo Nation and Cuba, N.M., near Jemez Pueblo. She continued on through the middle and southern sections of the state.

“The goal is to tell people about the money and what kinds of programs and projects will qualify,” Denish said. “We want to ensure that New Mexico gets as much money as possible, so people need to know how to get it, and how to collaborate with their local governments. We want our fair share.”

Some of the funds will be available through competitive grants and loans directly from the federal government, flowing through agencies like the BIA and IHS. Another portion will be distributed by the state of New Mexico, also in a grant process. A third portion comes to individuals through income tax relief and programs like Medicaid co-pay waivers for tribal members.

“For New Mexico, waiving Medicaid co-pays is significant,” Denish said. “For some, the $10 or $25 co-pay is an obstacle to going to the doctor. This is good temporary relief for those who are struggling.”

Denish reports that in Gallup, several Navajo tribal members raised concerns that funds flowing through the BIA be overseen to ensure they are properly accounted for.

“Transparency and sensitivity to everyone’s concerns is key; here in New Mexico, the goal is to ensure that the recovery money gets to people who need it. We’re going to do everything we can so the competitive process has specific guidelines and practices to use money in timely, efficient ways.”

The meeting in Cuba aired a wide variety of needs that will likely qualify for stimulus funding, including a shovel ready health care and dialysis clinic. Denish said many of the 150 who attended need the clinic’s services.

According to the “Integrated Recovery Guide,” compiled by the New Mexico congressional Delegation (available at http://bingaman.senate.gov/policy/stimulus_guide.cfm), a total of $2.6 billion in funding for construction and infrastructure improvements and more than $2.4 billion in bond authority for financing opportunities to create jobs, is available to New Mexico’s tribes.

Part of the information Denish is distributing is eligibility of four tribal police departments in New Mexico for funds under the DoJ’s Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Acoma, Laguna, Taos and Zuni pueblos can all apply for funds to be used for hiring law enforcement officers; supporting drug and gang task forces; funding crime prevention and domestic violence programs; and supporting courts, corrections, treatment and justice information

sharing initiatives.

“This Department of Justice money can also be used for youth mentoring programs, and for organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs,” Denish said. “But these groups need to work with their local municipalities and tribal entities. The key word is cooperation. We know that communities can collaborate with each other and their local councils and governments.”

Her office is coordinating a meeting of the All Indian Pueblo Council, which represents the 19 pueblos of New Mexico. “We’re trying to meet with the pueblo governors in one group together to make it easier to hear concerns and get information out to them,” she said. “Some money is already on its way to New Mexico, mostly for highway projects. For some of the DoJ grants, the deadline is the end of April. Different agencies have different abilities to administer money, and will be putting together their own guidelines. We’ll be doing our best to communicate what we know to everyone.”

The National Congress of American Indians created a Web site dedicated to providing information about stimulus money and how tribes can access it.