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Senate committee notes fiscal needs

WASHINGTON – The Senate Appropriations Committee drew an audience of several hundred to its meeting July 20, inspiring a few dry sparks of humor among lawmakers on the crowds they command when passing out trillions of dollars.

But the overall mood of the meeting wasn’t humorous or triumphal. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., captured the attitude of the appropriators – known on Capitol Hill as a third party after Republicans and Democrats – who have been forced by a $300 billion federal budget deficit to compromise their power by pulling in the purse strings.

“There was great joy to be an appropriator,” Specter said. “That was when we had something to appropriate.”

Even so, the Senate appropriators found funding for Native-specific programs – not enough funding, to be sure, but still enough to defend vigorously as the appropriations bill moves through the full Senate toward final reconciliation with the priorities in the House of Representatives.

In the following review of Native-specific Senate Appropria-tions Committee recommendations, the quotations are from committee reports for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and the Environment, and related but independent agencies.

In recommending appropriations for Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, the committee:

-- Applauded the administration for addressing a national nursing shortage, and recognized that “Native Hawaiians, with other ethnic minority populations throughout rural America, feel this critical shortage much more acutely.” The committee urged the department to collaborate with nursing programs on summer student nurse opportunities “amidst such populations.” Funding would come from a $1.4 billion appropriation.

-- Recommended $50 million for “employment-related services and opportunities” to help American Indians “secure permanent, unsubsidized jobs.”

-- Directed $6.8 million to the federal Denali Commission in Alaska for job training in rural Alaska infrastructural projects, experience that can help Alaska Natives find high-wage jobs in their own villages.

-- Recognized the University of Hawaii Center on the Family as a resource for public policy on the well-being of the state’s diverse people and families, including Native Hawaiians.

-- Recommended $100,000 for Alu Like Inc. in Hawaii for training and education in high-tech digitization.

-- Recommended $500,000 for Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage, Alaska, for job training and employment counseling.

-- Recommended $1.9 million for the Maui Community College Remote Rural Hawaii Job Training Project for job training and community development.

-- Recommended $750,000 for the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council in Everett, Wash., for high-tech training programs (the Tulalip Tribes are a partner of the council’s, with a director on its board).

In funding the Department of Health and Human Services, the committee encouraged a continuing emphasis on rural Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian health care needs through funding for a handful of programs, including:

-- Thirty-one million dollars for a nurse loan and scholarship initiative that repays student loans through an agreement to serve no less than two years at an IHS or Native Hawaiian health center, or at other community, migrant or rural health clinics.

-- Health programs and facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and on the Rosebud and Sac and Fox of Mississippi in Iowa reservations, were also recommended for appropriations.

-- Substance abuse, mental health, youth suicide and diabetes in Indian country were also singled out for attention and funding.

-- The Head Start program was recommended for an $8.8 billion appropriation. The committee called on HHS for “minor construction funding, as authorized, in remote Native American communities” to meet a “serious need” for new and expanded Head Start facilities. In addition, the committee expressed concern that Head Start funds “might not be achieving their full potential to serve American Indian/Alaska Native Head Start.” It stated that HHS “shall include, in the annual congressional budget justification, detailed information on the purpose and actual use of these funds.”

-- The Administration for Native Americans was recommended for $44.3 million through Children and Family Services Programs. “[ANA] assists Indian tribes and Native American organizations in planning and implementing long-term strategies for social and economic development through the funding of direct grants for individual projects, training and technical assistance, and research and demonstration programs.” Children and Family Services also houses the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a state grant and contingency fund program heavily relied upon by tribes in the central and northern United States. LIHEAP grants were recommended for $2.1 billion, a boost of $2 million from 2006.

-- Through the HHS Administration on Aging, the Native American Caregiver Support Program was recommended for a $6.2 million appropriation through the Native American Caregiver Support Program, “providing multifaceted systems of support services for family caregivers and for grandparents or older individuals who are relative caregivers.” Another $26.13 million was recommended for grants to organizations serving tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who are age 60 or over; and National Minority Aging Organizations receive level funding with 2006.

-- “The Committee provides $1,926,076,000 for the community health centers program” – a more than $200 million boost from 2006 for this leading federal health service to low-income people, including its approximately 4 percent clientele of Native people. Community health centers provide some urban Indian health programs with primary medical, dental and prenatal care management services under contract.

It bears noting that the bulk of federal funding for Native health care comes through the IHS, which gets its appropriation (approximately $3 billion) through the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies’ appropriations bills that have passed the House and Senate appropriations committees. Also funded under that appropriation are urban Indian health centers or clinics, which became the centers of attention in February, when President Bush’s budget request zeroed them out.

Both the House and the Senate appropriations committees restored the urban Indian health clinic funding at the 2006 level in their separate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies bills. Significantly, the Senate committee included such funding “in the bill itself in order to underscore the importance of this program and the Committee’s intention to ensure that funding is continued in the Service’s budget.” The committee also pronounced itself “dismayed” to hear from tribes that HHS had instructed the IHS to proceed with the shutdown of the 34 urban Indian health centers. “The Committee stresses that no funds were provided in fiscal year 2006 to effect the closure of these facilities and it expects the Department [HHS] to refrain from any further action until House and Senate Committees on Appropriations have concluded negotiations on the 2007 budget.”

The committee recommended $118.69 million to the Department of Education for Indian education (as with health care, the lion’s share of Native education funding comes through the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations, which funds the BIA). Again, funding goes to a handful of Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian programs. Other committee recommendations include:

-- Separate appropriations to a Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho program, American Indian Students in the Leadership of Education; Salish Kootenai College for faculty and student recruitment and retention and support of a nursing program; and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute for expanded training programs and equipment.

-- Five million dollars for Mental Health Integration in Schools, a program supporting grants or contracts among several agencies, including tribes, “to increase student access to mental health care by linking schools with their local mental health systems.”

-- Almost $1.5 million “for continuation and expansion of the school violence prevention demonstration program including the Native American program.”

-- Extra vocational education competitive grant funds for Indian and Native Hawaiian programs from an overall vocational education appropriation of almost $1.3 billion. In addition, the committee recommended $7.3 million for tribally controlled vocational education at United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota and Crownpoint Institute of Technology in New Mexico. Funding for both institutions had been zeroed out in the president’s budget request.

In appropriations for Housing and Urban Development, the committee approved $625.7 million for Native American Housing Block Grants, $58 million for the Indian Community Development Block Grant program and $4 million for the National American Indian Housing Council.

In a “Related Agencies” action included in the HUD report, the committee recommended a $2 million appropriation to the Morris K. Udall Foundation, permitting up to 60 percent of the funding to cover expenses of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy. As part of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, NNI assists tribes with a slate of indigenous leadership and management services that come under the rubric of nation-building – policy analysis, organizational development, strategic planning and accessible research on indigenous governance.