Senator upset over BIA budget

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WASHINGTON - Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., calls President George W. Bush's
budget for Indian country "outrageous" and an egregious under funding of
programs for those who have the most need.

Nearly all programs under the BIA have been cut; others remained steady and
at least one or two have seen increases, but remain under-funded.

"This budget ... is an outrage and will hurt those with the greatest need:
communities served by the weakest infrastructures with the least access and
economic opportunity and basic government services," Johnson said.

Johnson's constituency contains one of the country's largest American
Indian populations. The three poorest counties in the nation are also in
the senator's region and on American Indian reservations.

"Despite the federal treaty and trust responsibilities, the president
proposes that Indian people make enormous sacrifices to help provide
funding for the tax breaks the president is so passionately committed to
for the wealthiest Americans," Johnson said. "I am profoundly disappointed
in the president's priority... We need to recognize the treaty and trust
responsibility. We need to understand that the government-to-government
relationship ought to be in good faith."

In a phone press conference, Johnson cited each area that will see a
funding cut in the president's budget.

The BIA's total budget is $2.28 billion, $110 million less than last year's
appropriation. "So this is not just a matter of keeping up with inflation,
this is a reduction."

In comparison, the current weekly expense for the Iraq war is nearly $2
billion. The Tribal Priority Allocation budget - set at $60 million - has
been cut by $9 million from last year and contains programs such as the
Menominee Johnson O'Malley Program and the work experience program.

Johnson said that any reduction in the TPA budget is "unacceptable."

School construction took a $90 million cut from last years $263 million,
which, according to school and tribal officials is extremely low.

"This is inadequate to meet the need for schools that are literally falling
apart in South Dakota and around the country. I've been to many of these
schools in South Dakota and we can't afford to put these projects off any
longer without further endangering our youth and undermining education
throughout Indian country," Johnson said.

Tribal college funding remains at the same level as last year "at a time we
should be increasing opportunities for people seeking higher education. We
should be opening the door for still more professionals, nurses, teachers,
managers and role models who are seeking a college degree in Indian
country."

Johnson also said that an increase in funding for the Indian Health Service
should be significant. The president's budget proposes an increase in the
IHS budget of $64 million from $2.987 billion in the last fiscal year;
however, according to health officials and Johnson, the increase is
inadequate. He pointed out that even though the president's proposal
increases the IHS's overall budget, construction of new facilities budget
is virtually eliminated with construction funding set at $3 million in FY
2006 - a reduction of $85 million from the 2005 budget.

The per person expenditure for American Indians for health care is $1,000.
For the general public it is $5,500 and for prisoners, $3,800 per year.

"Federal prisoners have better health care than the Indian population,"
Johnson said.

The senator was also critical of the budget allocation for the Office of
Special Trustee. The president's proposal would increase that office
funding by $76 million to a total of $303 million.

"I realize the need for historic accounting. But I have very great concerns
for the bloated budget for OST. It's not a difficult stretch to believe
that this increase will be at the cost of other program funding," he said.

A proposed budget cut on the table would reduce capital available for home
loans in Indian country, loans that can leverage many more millions of
dollars. This would adversely impact home loan guarantees and grant
programs, and worsen Indian country's housing situation.

"[Bush's] proposed budget slashes Native American housing block grant
program by $107 million. [And] the budget would reduce the Indian housing
guarantee fund level to $46 million from the current $145 million," Johnson
said.

The senator said he will introduce the Native American Housing Enhancement
Act, a technical bill that will make tribes eligible for funding and
credits. This bill started in the past congress.

Senator Johnson sits on the Senate's appropriations and budget committees
as well as the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. In past years it has
been the congressional delegations with the leadership of Johnson and
former Sen. Tom Daschle that put as much back into the budget as possible.

"I will do everything we can. This is a high priority for me. Once again we
are playing defense of trying to correct egregious under-funding of Native
American programs just to get back where we were, and where we were is not
adequate.

"It is long overdue that we turn the corner and begin to put money in an
adequate level that will truly reflect our treaty and trust
responsibilities. This is not just a matter of legal responsibility, this
is a moral issue," Johnson said.