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February 2014 Tribal Policy Update

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) recently released the fiscal year 2015 Indian Country Budget Request.  This document is compiled in collaboration with tribal leaders, Native organizations, and Tribal budget consultation bodies and is intended to guide the Congress for use in the appropriations process for Indian Country.

Some of the budget needs, due to the effects of sequestration and the Budget Control Act, which adversely affected tribes’ ability to meet their respective community needs, includes a call for equitable funding for Indian Country governmental services to be on par with other governmental services.  NCAI states that the most critical needs are Public Safety, Health Care, and Education.  The numbers are striking with regard to Health Care.  Currently the Indian Health Service is only funded to meet about 56% of its actual need, despite the fact that it is the primary provider of health care in so many communities. The 2012 IHS per capita expenditures for patient health services was $2,896 as compared to $7,535 per person nationally.[1]

One section in the budget particularly struck me—Upholding Obligations to Native People Will Expand Economic Opportunity—where NCAI states that “where tribes exercise self-determination, success stories abound…”[2] I have seen examples of this phenomenon in my academic research.  NCAI confirms that over the last 30 years Native people have experienced significant economic growth, no doubt due to self-determination. Citing A recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, the data shows that between 2009-2011 American Indian employment rate was 64.7% a full 13.4% lower than that of the White rate or the difference of 234,000 jobs.[3] Clearly, tribes are still economically disadvantaged and scholars estimate that even with sustained rapid economic growth, it would take decades for Indian Country to catch up to United States average income levels.[4]

The entire Fiscal Year 2014 Indian Country Budget Request document is 124 pages long. In addition to Public Safety, Education and Health Care, the budget request addresses other significant areas of funding need.  Following the Executive Summary and Introduction with overall government-wide recommendations, these areas include: Support for Tribal Governments, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Human Services, Economic and Workforce Development, Telecommunications, Agriculture and Rural Development, Environmental Protection, Natural Resources, Energy, Housing, Transportation, and Historic and Cultural Preservation.

[1] National Congress of American Indians. (January 2014). Fiscal year 2015 Indian Country Budget Requests: An honorable budget for Indian country. Washington, DC: PP 17.
[2] Ibid 20
[3] ibid 21
[4] The State of Native Nations: Conditions Under U.S. Policies of Self-Determination: the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. (2008) Eric C. Henson. Oxford, NY. PP 117
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