Low funding levels and poor language plagues appropriations bill

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - On a vote of 31 to 22, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $14.6 billion draft of the FY2001 Interior Appropriations measure.

The May 25 action represents funding levels approximately $300 million less than current levels and $1.7 billion less than President Bill Clinton's proposed budget. These appropriations include funding for the BIA, the Indian Health Service (IHS), and other tribal programs.

The House bill also contains a provision which institutes a one-year moratorium on tribes entering into the self-governance program and report language on the land-to-trust process.

The committee's recommended budget for the BIA is $1.8 billion, $320 million less than the president's request and only $11 million more than last year. It also contains an IHS budget of $2.4 billion, short of the president's request by $200 million and only $30 million more than last year.

In the subcommittee mark-up, a week prior to the full committee approval, House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, said the subcommittee had to make cuts based on Congressional allocations set by members prior to mark-up. These allocations, called 302(b) allocations, are set for each appropriating subcommittee based on fiscal priorities of Congress.

"The level of funding allocation has forced the subcommittee to set priorities and only carefully fund must-do's and a few need to do's," Regula said.

The president's budget contains a request of $2.2 billion for the BIA and $2.6 billion for the IHS. These are the minimum funding levels which tribes and some members of Congress strongly supported in hearings before the subcommittee in April.

In those hearings, tribal leaders and Congressmen like Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., urged the subcommittee to support the president's budget for the BIA and IHS.

In testimony before the subcommittee, NCAI President Susan Masten challenged Congress to meet the minimum of levels needed to fund tribal programs.

"The president's budget request acknowledges the fiduciary duty owed to tribes," Masten said. "We ask that the Congress maintain the federal trust responsibility to Indian country and continue to aid tribes in our journey toward self-sufficiency."

While funding levels remain a major point of concern for many, the bill also includes language which limits the ability of tribes to enter into self-governance programs. A provision in the measure calls for a one-year moratorium on new or expanded IHS contracts or compacts under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. The moratorium is similar to one imposed two years ago, which placed a hold on any tribe which wished to begin the self-governance process or expand their current program.

Currently, the act enables tribes to enter into contracts to administer BIA and health service programs. This moratorium would close this process and halt tribal efforts to engage in self-governance.

This provision derives from the on-going funding problems Congress and the administration encountered with "contract support costs," cost incurred by tribes in administering self-governance duties. These costs consistently have been underfunded by the federal government, resulting in shortfalls and non-payment to tribal governments.

Some in Congress believe such a moratorium is necessary to protect current programs, while tribes voice their opposition, as they did two years ago.

"This continual shortfall and moratorium penalizes tribes which elect to operate programs under the Self-Determination Policy," said W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe and co-chairman of a National Tribal/Federal Workgroup on Contract Support Costs.

Of further concern to tribes is language initially offered by Rep. Obey, R-Wis., amending the bill. The original amendment stated no funds in the bill could be used by the Secretary of the Interior to approve any land-to-trust application which may be used for gambling unless local government jurisdictions "officially" approve the applications.

The amendment was withdrawn and only included as non-binding report language. In the report, Rep. Obey offered language which raises concerns regarding off-reservation acquisitions under the land-to trust process and the rights of local governments.

"The committee is concerned that some Indian tribes may have violated the spirit of their trust relationships by locating Indian gambling facilities on property far removed from their reservation," Rep. Obey wrote. "The views of all local government authorities directly affected by the application should be considered before an application is approved."

The measure is expected to be considered on the House floor in the coming weeks. Members of the House Native American Caucus, such as Representatives Kildee and Hayworth, are working on letters to other Congressional members calling for higher funding levels and a lift of the moratorium on self-governance.