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SCIA Hearing on Federal Budget Highlights Government’s Responsibilities

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs recently held a hearing on President Barack Obama’s FY2016 Budget Requests for Indian Programs.
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Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs pointed out the fact that the United States faces a continued federal deficit and tight budgets, before acknowledging the federal government’s important responsibilities to Indian people.

Responsibilities that “require funding.”

His statements came during an SCIA hearing on President Barack Obama’s FY2016 Budget Request for Indian Programs.

“The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request calls for increases for both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service,” he stated. “Whatever funding is provided for these Indian programs must be used efficiently and effectively in fulfilling Federal responsibilities.

The fiscal budget includes $1 billion to improve American Indian education, and $6.3 billion for Indian Health Service as standouts. Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn expanded on the President’s budget, stating it seeks increases across more than 20 Federal departments and agencies serving Indian country totaling some $20.8 billion, a $1.5 billion or 8 percent increase over 2015’s budget.

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“These increases support improved access to federal programs and resources, particularly focused on youth through the Administration’s newly established Generation Indigenous initiative,” Washburn said. “Investments like these will provide real and sustainable improvements in Indian country.”

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The SCIA hearing heard testimony from Obama Administration officials that included Washburn, Yvette Roubideaux, senior advisor to the Secretary for American Indians and Alaska Natives, Department of Health and Human Services, and Rodger Boyd, deputy assistant secretary office of Native American programs – Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Roubideaux, recently moved into her current role as senior advisor, shared before the committee how IHS appropriations have increased by 39 percent since 2008. Highlighting the increase due in part to SCIA.

“The funding increases proposed in the President’s budget are part of an ‘all of government’ approach to addressing tribal needs, with a particular focus on AI/AN youth,” Roubideaux said. “For the IHS, the increases will help us improve the quality of and access to care for the patients we serve by expanding access to priority health care services that our patients need, which will result in better quality and health outcomes.”

Barrasso expressed his disappointment that the Department of Justice did not testify before the Committee, noting that the DOJ “provides critical public safety services to Indian country.”

“Individual tribal members and Indian country as a whole cannot afford to be ignored by the Administration’s Attorney General,” Barrasso said.

Washburn touched on some Department of Justice issues during his speech stating that “[t]he BIA will work with the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services to provide comprehensive suicide prevention training to police officers and work with tribal courts to identify and make mental health services and support more widely available.” He spoke on expanding VAWA, the Native youth initiatives, climate change, water rights, and trust programs, along with tribal-nation building.

“This FY 2016 budget maintains strong and meaningful relationships with Native communities, strengthens government-to-government relationships with federally recognized tribes, promotes efficient and effective governance, and supports nation-building and self-determination,” Washburn concluded.