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Lobbyists mobilize to prevent cuts in federal rez housing budget

WASHINGTON - A fight is brewing against possible upcoming cuts in housing block grants and other programs for American Indians. The Coalition for Indian Housing Development (CIHD) is mobilizing tribes to lobby Congress.

Kristy L. McCarthy, director of CIHD, noted in an alert to Indian housing leaders that the 107th Congress left town without finalizing any of the fiscal 2003 budgets, with the exception of defense. When the new Congress is seated on Jan. 7, she said she expects the delayed appropriations bills to be passed quickly before President Bush delivers the State of the Union message Jan. 20.

She told the housing leaders that they need to get in touch with their Congressional members and the "movers and shakers" on the appropriations committees to keep the budget axe from hitting Indian housing.

"Our indications are that the Republican leaders in Congress will be looking for places to cut funding to bring their spending in line with the President's priorities. At no other time since the enactment of NAHASDA (the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act), has Indian housing funding (along with all other domestic programs) been so at risk," McCarthy wrote.

In a follow-up e-mail, CIHD sent out three model letters, one concerning fiscal year 2003 and two concerning FY 2004, whose appropriation decisions will have to come soon after the 2003 ones because of the delay in funding legislation.

CIHD asked them to be sent to President George W. Bush, Office of Management and Budget director Mitch Daniels, and members of the Congressional appropriations committees.

"Our message is that we need increases in all Indian housing programs, but we must at least maintain current funding. This is most important for VA-HUD's Indian Housing Block Grant and Indian Community Development Block Grant, and Interior's BIA Housing Improvement Program and [Indian Health Service] Sanitation Facilities Construction," said McCarthy.

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"VA-HUD" is the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which although they are not affiliates are traditionally lumped together for budget consideration.

"If Congress or the Administration determines that cuts will have to be made, we are requesting that cuts be across the board for every program so that we don't risk losing a large amount of funding in any one program," wrote McCarthy.

CIHD's appropriations lobbying campaign will include a week of lobbying visits by Gary Gordon, who is chairman of CIHD and its affiliate, the National American Indian Housing Council, in mid-January.

FY 2003 Indian Housing Block Grants, which are authorized by the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act, were set at $646.6 million in President Bush's initial budget requests.

They have increased from a level of $485 million for fiscal 1998, but NAIHC and CIHD have insisted funding is inadequate and should be increased to $1 billion a year.

In related news, CIHD, NAIHC's lobbying arm, was scheduled to be reorganized on Jan. 1. "NAIHC gains a new department, the Office of Governmental Affairs (OGA), which will provide advocacy services currently being handled by CIHD. McCarthy will serve as Director of the new department," said NAIHC.

"CIHD will continue to exist, but only to perform specific political activities under contract with NAIHC."