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Senators urge Obama to fund tribal initiatives

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and several of his colleagues sent a letter to President Barack Obama just before his inauguration asking him to support a $3.58 billion plan to fund a range of Indian country programs as part of an economic stimulus proposal.

“It is important for Congress to pass a strong and timely stimulus plan, and I hope President-elect Obama will agree that our comprehensive plan to address the needs of Indian country should be in the bill,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Our nation’s poorest communities are on reservations, and this plan addresses the unique employment, infrastructure and economic development needs of Indian reservation economies.”

Johnson is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which has been stepping up deliberations on economic incentives for tribes. Meetings and internal discussions on jobs and economic stimuli for Indian country have been happening amongst committee members and other Congress members throughout the month of January.

“Tribal infrastructure needs are significant and longstanding, the senators wrote in the letter. “The more than $50 billion unmet need in Indian reservation infrastructure poses both a danger to reservation residents and a barrier to investment and economic development of tribal communities.”

They also noted that Obama said, “Poverty and its effects are pervasive [in Indian country], with more than a quarter of all Native Americans living in poverty and unemployment rates reaching 80 percent on some reservations.”

The senators attached a plan to the letter, which included the following funding requests:

• $1.2 billion for Indian health facilities construction and support;

• $360 million for construction of tribal justice infrastructure and support;

• $568 million for construction of tribal roads and bridge projects;

• $658 million for construction of tribal schools and colleges;

• $50 million for housing construction, weatherization, and heating in Indian country;

• $80 million for Indian job training and business development;

• $600 million for water infrastructure development in Indian country;

• $4.4 million for energy development on Indian lands; and

• $50 million to address Indian land fractionation.

The letter was signed by Sens. Johnson, Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

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