On Tuesday Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request of $11.9 billion dollars for the Department of the interior. The 2015 budget request represents an increase of 2.4 percent from 2014 or $33.6 million dollars to support Indian country initiatives such as land and water conservation, strengthening tribal nation relations, renewable energy development and expanding employment opportunities for Native youth.
“The President’s balanced and responsible budget strategy supports the pivotal role this Department plays as a driver of jobs and economic activity in communities across the country,” said Jewell in a DOI release.
“The budget enables the Interior to carry out its important missions and contains key proposals to uphold our trust responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives, provide a new approach for responsibly budgeting for wild land-fire-suppression needs, invest in climate resilience, and bolster our national parks and public lands in advance of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016,” she said.
Jewell also stated that President Obama will continue to support full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which she said was “one of the Nation’s most effective tools for expanding access for hunting and fishing, creating ball fields and other places for children to play and learn, and protecting Civil War battlefields.”
“We are very pleased to see the administration’s continuing commitment to Indian country in a time of tight budgetary constraints, said Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation in an email to ICTMN. “We are hopeful that the proposed budget will have a positive impact on the lives of Native Americans.”
According to the DOI, funding from the U.S. Government to Indian country is not one-sided. The Interior’s programs and activities contributed an estimated $371 billion to the economy in 2012 and supported another estimated 2.3 million jobs in the U.S.
The DOI also stated that the Interiors programs continue to generate an excess of revenue for the American people monetarily above their annual appropriation. In 2015, the DOI estimates receipts of nearly $14.9 billion. A portion of these funds will be shared with State and local governments for school funding, infrastructure improvements and water-conservation projects.
In the confines of the 2015 budget, the DOI also proposes revenue and savings legislation that is estimated to generate over $2.6 billion in the next 10 years.
Specific initiatives in the budget geared toward strengthening tribal nations include a $34 million dollar increase from 2014. These monies provide support to fund social services, economic development, sustainable stewardship of natural resources and community safety in Indian country.
The budget also includes directives to improve educational outcomes in Indian country by providing $79 million for elementary, secondary and post-secondary education programs. The increases are $46 million in 2015 to support the Bureau of Indian Education and its associated programs.
Improving and increasing access to health care in communities includes $4.6 billion for Indian Health Service (IHS) with an additional Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative that includes an additional $200 million for the construction of IHS health care facilities.
There will also be a $5.23 billion budget over the next 10 years to support the training of 13,000 new residents in a medical education program that incentivizes physician training; $3.95 billion will be budgeted over the next six years to scale up the National Health Services Corps to place 15,000 health care providers annually in the areas that need them most.
Additional budgeted monies include non-specified resources to support the Affordable Health Care act, $650 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Native American Housing Block Grant program, $395 million for Department of Justice (DOJ) public safety initiatives in Indian country and $352 million for Public Safety and Justice programs funded by the BIA.
Kevin Brown, who is chief of the Pamunkey Tribe in Virginia and stands on a promising threshold to become federally recognized by 2015, said he is encouraged by the budget increase as a recognition as to the importance of the viability of Indian country.
“All of this sounds promising as well as encouraging,” Brown said. “If I am not mistaken, I also believe there are line items in the BIA’s budget which allows for the allocation of funds of newly federally recognized tribes. I’d like to be able to secure some of that funding.
“All of my time has been volunteered, my assistant chief volunteers as well as my secretary. I’d like to get broadband, and have a computer for the tribal office to get connected to the world.”