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Tribes batting .500 on HUD budget signed by Bush

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WASHINGTON ? Tribes are one for two on changes they wanted in the new budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development signed into law by President Bush.

On the plus side, Congress restored a rural housing program the administration cut which has funded millions of dollars of projects for American Indians. But on the negative, advocates were unable to persuade legislators to restore money for the Indian side of the Public and Indian Housing Drug Elimination Program, which HUD zeroed out in its appropriations request.

HUD's Rural Housing and Economic Development program has been reinstated and funded for $25 million for fiscal 2002. Tribes have been the beneficiaries of the program, taking down about 20 percent of money awarded. In 1999, for example, 19 tribes received grants totaling $5.2 million of the $27 million awarded, while in fiscal 2000, 25 tribes got $5.5 million of $24.75 million.

RHED money has been used in housing projects facilitated by the Enterprise Foundation for pueblos in New Mexico. In 2000, $360,000 went to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma to build model homes using alternative construction methods; the Fort Berthold Housing Authority in North Dakota got a $500,000 grant in FY 2000 to help develop a revolving loan fund; nonprofit Oti Kaga Inc. on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in Eagle Butte, S.D., received $100,000 in 2000 to help the housing group build capacity.

The administration claimed the program was redundant, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture runs its own Rural Housing Service loan programs.

The loss of the DEP program will put a crimp in Indian Housing Authority attempts to fight a rapidly expanding wave of drug abuse in Indian country, including a proliferation of methamphetamine labs and an epidemic of young children huffing gasoline.

Cutting of the program was bitterly protested by housing leaders such as Chester Carl, chairman of the Navajo Housing Authority in Arizona and the National American Indian Housing Council, Robert Gauthier, director of the Salish-Kootenai Housing Authority in Montana, and Victor Velasquez, who runs the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority in Arizona.

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Claiming the drug elimination efforts were redundant or ineffective, the administration zeroed out PIHDEP but promised to restore some money to the city-based Public Housing Authorities. It proposed nothing for IHAs.

Indian housing advocates protested that while drug elimination money may have been wasted at many Public Housing Authorities, in Indian country it has proved an effective program.

Carl's group funded a study of the program which concluded it has helped tribes develop culturally relevant solutions to reduce crime caused by drug abuse.

The council observed that staff which implement programs "are caring and committed to the success of their programs; that program planning is tailored to the specific needs of the community, including variables such as sources of criminal activity, acculturation, land base and unique demographics; and that creativity in partnerships also helped to alleviate funding shortfalls."

In other appropriations under the bill, Indian Housing Block Grants under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act were funded at $648 million. The act's Title VI program received $6 million of that amount, allowing guarantee of as much as $52.7 million in loans, while the HUD 184 program got $6 million, allowing guarantees of $234 million in loans. Neither represented an increase over last year.

The bill includes a new $1 million appropriation to fund a Native Hawaiian home loan program, which could guarantee a volume of as much as $40 million in lending.

And the Veterans Administration got $544,000 to administer its Native American Veterans Home Loan Program.