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NAIHC lists priorities, reports progress

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LAS VEGAS - The National American Indian Housing Council, at a legal symposium it recently held here, listed about a dozen priorities it is currently working on, and updated its membership on the status of 18 resolutions it made at the NAIHC annual meeting in New Orleans in June.

Chief among the priorities was the status of Indian housing money for fiscal year 2004 and 2005, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens' plans for housing regionalization, and the negotiated rulemaking sessions Indian housing leaders have been holding with the federal government.

In terms of the progress reports, a resolution to increase Indian housing money under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) appeared to be bearing fruit, as does a resolution to restore cut training money for NAIHC.

Fiscal year 2004 appropriations for Indian housing appear to be heading for a boost, despite a mandatory 0.59 percent "haircut" for all domestic spending programs, reported Kristy L. McCarthy, director of NAIHC's Office of Government Affairs.

Since the Senate will not take up appropriations bills until it returns in January, the final funding level will not be known until then. But it looks as if there will be a several million dollar increase over the initial budget level of $646.6 million, McCarthy reported to the members. Until the Senate votes, funding will continue based on fiscal year 2003 levels.

As for fiscal year 2005, "we understand that most housing programs will be flat-lined at the fiscal year 2004 budget levels," McCarthy noted. NAIHC also reported that a request sent to HUD for consultation on budget issues was not answered.

Another important topic was Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' plan to regionalize Alaska housing funding. The powerful Appropriations Committee chairman from Alaska has delayed his controversial proposal for a year, NAIHC told its members.

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It is opposed to the Stevens plan "on the basis that it threatens tribal sovereignty and self-determination and could disadvantage tribes of the lower 48 states in competition for funding."

NAIHC noted that South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson has introduced two pieces of legislation, one to enhance NAHASDA, and the other to enhance tribal economic development. "We will be working very closely with Johnson's staff to get these bills passed before the end of the 108th Congress."

The group reported that "the prohibition against using Indian Health Service Sanitation Facilities Construction Funds for new HUD-funded homes is still in place" pending legislation and that it will try to get this language removed from the bills.

It also applauded the addition of a seventh meeting of the negotiated rulemaking committee on the NAHASDA funding formula with HUD. The additional meeting is set for Jan. 13 - 16 in Denver, and while NAIHC admitted there has not been a lot of agreement on the negotiations to date, "the committee is confident that much can be accomplished in just one additional meeting, now that more data is available and many issues are close to resolution."

NAIHC also noted that an inter-tribal, inter-agency task force has been meeting since the group hosted an "Infrastructure Summit" in August. It also has participated in a workshop with the National Congress of American Indians on an effort to speed up proposed leasing regulations at the BIA.

On the mid-year meeting progress report, many of the resolutions concerned internal affairs of the group. But it also resolved to push for increased funding under NAHASDA, and achieved a $16 million increase in the House, although the Senate did not follow suit.

In another promising result, the cut in NAIHC's training money apparently has been reversed, as it reported "it appears NAIHC will be fully funded in 2004."

But it noted that no answer had been received from BIA on its resolution to improve title status report processing times to 60 days.