Obama’ Final Federal Budget Request of $21 Billion for Tribes Not Certain

President Barack Obama allocated more than $20 billion of the federal budget for American Indian programs, but the whole amount may not remain intact.

The 2017 Administration federal budget request recommends for the first time that American Indian tribes and programs be allocated more than $20 billion, with increases just about across the board. But it is uncertain tribes will be getting the whole amount.

The President’s federal budget request (the final one from the Obama Administration) seeks $21 billion, up seven percent ($1.4 billion) from 2016’s enacted $19.7 billion towards obligations owed to tribes. And it is up nearly 13 percent from 2014’s $18.7 billion.

It should be noted the President’s federal budget request is always altered when it goes through Congress. It is more of a sketch than a final portrait. And having a new Administration inmakes chances of full adoption even less likely. Enacted amounts may well be different, as the 2017 federal budget has yet to be resolved while the federal government continues to function under a “continuing resolution.”


Patrice Kunesh, co-director of the Center for Indian Country Development, called the funding situation “complex” but said her intuition is there will be fewer federal dollars. She fears “Indian country will not be receiving the amount of funds actually needed,” she said.

The prospect of hiring freezes and requirements to cut across the board and perhaps even fewer federal agencies involved in Indian country is causing the director of the Minneapolis-based offshoot of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to worry there will be “fewer funds and fewer people to provide these services.”

Her hope is that a more targeted approach to using whatever funds are finally appropriated “may accomplish 90 percent of our work.”

The tabulation of all federal allocations, called the crosscut, is done yearly by the Department of the Interior and covers amounts allocated to Indian country by about 20 different federal agencies.

The largest amount, $7.5 billion, is the requested allocation for the Department of Health and Human Services. That would be a jump of $571 million, or eight percent. The next biggest are from the Department of the Interior ($5.6 billion, a four percent jump) and the Department of Education ($3.6 billion, up eight percent).

Increases are seen just about across the board, with a couple of programs requested to be level to 2016. The only significant decrease was for the Department of Defense, cut $27 million.

At HHS, the Indian Health Service is in line for an additional $400 million, from $6.2 billion to $6.6 billion. The Administration for Children and Families is budgeted up $164 million, to $916 million.

At Education, “indirect support” such as Title I LEA grants and special ed grants to states, were up by $340 million.

At DOI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs would see a jump of $138 million, to $2.9 billion.

The Department of Agriculture is down for some increases in food programs for Natives. The commodities program was budgeted for $154 million, up $8 million from the 2016 enactment. The Child Nutrition program is budgeted up $20 million, and the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/food stamps) is in line for an additional $1 million.

Indian housing may see a boost an 11 percent in allocation, as the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act block grants are requested at $700 million, up from $650 million in fiscal 2016. In addition, there is a request for an additional $20 million, to $80 million, for the Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG). The Department of Housing and Urban Development also contemplates funding tribal VASH (veterans supportive housing) vouchers for the first time, for $7 million. Previously the program was only open to Public Housing Authorities, not Indian Housing Authorities.

The smaller allocation requests, besides the DOD which was zeroed out, come for the Army Corps of Engineers, $1 million, the Department of Commerce, $17 million, the Department of Energy, at $24 million, Department of Homeland Security, $11 million, the Department of Veterans Affairs, $29 million (up 81 percent), the Small Business Administration, $2 million, and the Department of the Treasury, $16 million.