Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Sequester threatens tribal programs

By Lailani Upham

PABLO — Sequester – is not only a bad word in Washington these days, but it has hit home, and at the sound of the word has been sending uneasiness throughout Indian Country like a cuss word.

What is a “sequester?” According to a large team of lobbyists in DC called The Friends Committee on National Legislation, it is an automatic reduction that applies to funding for nearly all federal programs, “across the board.”

The further explanation of when a sequestration is in effect, it does not matter what Congress appropriates; spending for each program affected will be reduced.

Back in August 2011 Congress agreed to reduce the federal deficit spending by a certain amount each year over the next ten years.

According to the lobbyists, Congress failed to meet several deadlines for approving a spending plan that would meet the deficit reduction. As a result – a result that Congress itself put in place – funds for nearly all federal programs are now being reduced by an automatic percentage.

The sequestration is now in effect and nearly all federal programs are starting to feel the effect. At this point directors have been aiming to prepare for the looming effects of budget cuts, but for the next decade ahead, the strategies are getting overwhelmingly complicated.

Many of the programs in Indian Country are being reduced by 5 percent for the 2013, and possibly for 2014; ahead of that the number is unknown.

Sequester in Indian Country means steeper cuts, although 8.2 percent sounds minor, the breakdown equates to a 21 percent in tribal housing grants; a 23 percent cut to Native job training; and a 35 percent cut to Energy Assistance and so much more.

According to FCNL, the first difference Indian Country faces regarding the sequestration is that tribal governments do not have a strong tax base. Unlike states, which are struggling mightily themselves, tribes cannot levy property taxes on lands held in trust, or gain significant revenues from income taxes, given the chronically low incomes of most residents on Indian reservations, says the public interest officials. Although the federal government pays “about 10 percent of the budget for a typical U.S. public school district; on federal lands, it contributes as much as 60 percent.”

FCNL says that decisions about funding of programs in Indian Country are made in Washington, where tribal governments have, at best, a consultative relationship.

Secondly, federal programs in tribal communities are not a matter of charity; these programs, at least, partially, fulfill treaties and other obligations taken on by federal government in exchange for land and resources taken over centuries, reports the FCNL.

Regardless of the tax base and the treaty obligation – most programs that funded by the federal government in tribal communities fall into a category in the federal budget called “discretionary.”

“Discretionary spending” consists of U.S. government expenditures that are set on a yearly basis. This is money that members of Congress can adjust on a yearly basis.

National programs that will be cut by the sequester throughout Indian Country are: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Low Income Energy Assistance; Child Care, Social Services and Family Service programs; Aging and Disability Service programs; Construction and repair of Indian schools, facilities operation and maintenance accounts; tribal education departments; Higher Education grants for Tribal colleges and Universities; Impact Aid; Indian Health Service; Indian Community Development Block Grant; Native American Housing Block Grant and Indian Housing Loan Guarantees; Native Hawaiian Housing; Tribal justice programs to implement Tribal Law and Order and Violence Against Women authorities; Bureau of Indian Affairs public safety programs; Tribal juvenile justice programs; all BIA programs from the Gaming Commission to the Special Trustee for Native American Affairs; Environmental Protection Agency, State and Tribal Assistance grants; Tribal Water Pollution Control, and Clean Water Act; Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs; and capacity-building assistance to tribes – Tribal Energy Resource Agreements.

A series of articles will be published in the coming weeks on each CSKT tribal department/programs that have been effected the sequestration.

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