WASHINGTON – Today, during an oversight hearing on President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for Indian programs, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, questioned administration officials about why the administration is recommending “sweeping, unjustifiable cuts to vital programs” when it has promised to respect Tribal sovereignty and to invest in Indian Country.
“The administration’s rhetoric about respecting Tribal sovereignty and investing in Indian Country simply does not align with this budget proposal. The head of the Office of Management and Budget said recently that the administration’s budget proposal is only a ‘messaging document.’ If that’s the case, the administration sent a very concerning message about its priorities for Indian Country in FY19,” Udall said. “The president’s proposed budget is totally inadequate — an insult to Indian Country, really.”
When polled as a part of the Tribal-Interior Budget Council, Tribes from each Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) region identified BIA Social Services, Indian Child Welfare Act, Scholarships and Adult Education, Tribal Courts, and Aid to Tribal Governments as their top five priorities. Of those five priority funding areas, the administration’s budget eliminates one and cuts the other four by an average of 25 percent.
“I’m proud that Senator Murkowski and I — along with other appropriators — put together a responsible omnibus for FY18 that acknowledges and respects Tribal priorities,” Udall continued. “We increased funding for IHS by a half billion dollars and increased funding for the BIA and BIE by another $204 million. These are important steps toward funding levels that meet our solemn obligations to Indian Country.”
In addition to the oversight hearing, Udall led a committee business meeting to consider two bills, including Udall and Hoeven’s bipartisan S. 2515, the Practical Reforms and Other Goals to Reinforce the Effectiveness of Self-Governance and Self-Determination (PROGRESS) for Indian Tribes Act. The bill would improve Tribal administration of federal programs through the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and advance the policy of Tribal self-governance.
“I’m proud to cosponsor S. 2515, the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act, with Chairman Hoeven,” Udall said. “This bipartisan legislation would amend the Indian Self-Determination Education Assistance Act for the first time in nearly two decades — fixing current gaps and flaws that hinder the full exercise of Tribal self-governance of DOI programs.”
During the business meeting, Udall also offered two amendments to S. 1250, the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2017.
“The health care crisis facing many IHS facilities in the Great Plains and throughout Indian Country is a concern this committee takes seriously,” Udall said. “I look forward to continuing work with Senator Barrasso and the chairman to make sure this bill reflects the lessons learned from federal employment reform at other agencies.”
The full text of Udall’s opening remarks at the oversight hearing can be found below.
Thank you, Chairman Hoeven, for calling this oversight hearing to discuss the administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019. It’s also a timely hearing, in light of Congress’ recently enacted omnibus appropriations bill for FY18.
The omnibus is a step in the right direction toward the federal government fulfilling its trust and treaty obligations to Indian Country.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the administration’s FY19 budget proposal.
The administration’s rhetoric about respecting Tribal sovereignty and investing in Indian Country simply does not align with this budget proposal.
The head of the Office of Management and Budget said recently that the administration’s budget proposal is only a “messaging document.” If that’s the case, the administration sent a very concerning message about its priorities for Indian Country in FY19.
The president’s proposed budget is totally inadequate — an insult to Indian Country, really — with sweeping, unjustifiable cuts to vital Tribal programs, programs that Indian Country specifically sought increases for within DOI and HHS – were instead targeted for cuts.
As you can see from the chart — this administration proposed gutting all of the programs that Indian Country identified as a priority.
For example, the president’ budget would eliminate the BIA Housing Improvement Program.
As everyone can see from this photo, HIP dollars have a huge, positive impact in Indian Country.
As Admiral Weahkee can attest, the housing needs at Zuni — where this photo was taken — are tremendous.
The photo shows just how far HIP dollars go to provide folks a place to call home. In this case, for an elder, Carla Allapowa.
HIP and many other BIA programs are pillars of the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations. But under the president’s proposal, yet again, they would either be significantly reduced or eliminated entirely.
Infrastructure grant programs in Indian Country also take a hit — like the Indian Community Development Block Grant — that Pueblos including Santa Clara and Acoma use for elder housing needs.
Adding to the long list of inadequately funded priorities are BIE and IHS construction backlogs, which — at the administration’s proposed funding levels — would take centuries to address.
As you can see from the photos in front of me — infrastructure needs in New Mexico’s Tribal communities are very real. And these are but a few examples of Indian Country’s overall need.
And although the president has made “Law and Order” a cornerstone of his political message, his budget would undermine public safety in Indian Country.
Court systems and an effective police force go to the core of self-governance. Yet these programs don’t escape this administration’s cuts, either.
Program cuts mean less money for housing block grants. Less money for hospitals and schools. Less money for roads.
Less money for managing Indian Country’s natural resources — all critically important for economic development in Indian Country.
I’m proud that Senator Murkowski and I — along with other appropriators — put together a responsible omnibus for FY18 that acknowledges and respects Tribal priorities. We increased funding for IHS by a half billion dollars and increased funding for the BIA and BIE by another $204 million.
These are important steps toward funding levels that meet our solemn obligations to Indian Country.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here today, and thank you to the administration for also appearing.
I’m glad the administration will have this opportunity to hear directly from Tribal representatives at this hearing.