Coalition of Large Tribes expresses several federal budget concerns
Why are some tribes seemingly being shortchanged in a variety of areas for fiscal year 2024?
WASHINGTON — The Coalition of Large Tribes, an advocacy organization composed of 14 major U.S. tribes, today sent a letter to several top Biden administration officials and congressional leaders expressing a variety of concerns about the federal budget for Indian Country for fiscal year 2024.
Sept. 30 is the last day for tribal comments on the White House’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, and there is widespread consternation that tribes are being shortchanged in several key areas.
A proposed budget cut of $100 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a proposed Bureau of Indian Education cut of $99 million are particularly noteworthy.
The following request, signed by COLT Chairman Kevin Killer, also president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was delivered to the White House and to various federal agencies and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) today:
Dear Honorable Officials:
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Coalition of Large Tribes to voice our request that the Department of the Interior FY 2024 budget request to Congress follow the Tribal Interior Budget Council’s (TIBC) recommendations of mandatory funding, forward funding, full funding, and inclusion of tribes in the Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Land (PILT) program. I am also requesting that the budget request include making tribes eligible for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) program. Additionally, I am requesting a meeting with you and your senior budget staff to convey Indian Country’s budget priorities. These requests are COLT’s policy as adopted in the attached Resolution: August-16-2022-Resolution #06-2-22 (NN Twin Arrows), Resolution in support of including full and mandatory funding to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the President’s FY 2024 Budget Request to Congress.
The Administration’s priorities of equity, tackling climate change, economic recovery and fulfilling the United States’ Treaty and Trust responsibilities to tribes are welcome, and we look forward to seeing these values represented in the FY 2024 budget request. As President Biden has stated, ‘Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.’
As you all know from your experience in policy-making and execution, Indian Country has been woefully and perpetually underfunded. We are in a constant state of scrapping for survival. That must change and that change must begin with equitable and appropriate funding. TIBC’s recommendations include:
• Mandatory funding to ensure fulfillment of the federal government’s Treaty and Trust responsibilities to Indian Country
• Forward funding to ensure that lapses in congressional budget cycles do not impact important government services, including the provision of law enforcement, emergency response services and healthcare. In all others of the federal budget, these essential services are safeguarded by forward funding (e.g., in the Veterans Affairs and Transportation Security Administration Budget).
o Only Native Americans are left out of the safety net forward funding provides for all other citizens in these areas and that is a wrong we hope you will correct.
• Full funding of $20 billion to adequately address Indian Country’s current needs
• Inclusion of tribes in the PILT program to ensure equity and to make it easier to take land into trust on behalf of tribes. (The PILT program was created in 1976 to offset costs incurred by counties for services provided to federal employees and families, the public and to the users of public lands. Services include education, solid waste disposal, law enforcement, search and rescue, healthcare, environmental compliance, firefighting, parks and recreation and other important community services. The FY 2022 Omnibus appropriations package [P.L. 117-103], enacted in March 2022, ensured full, mandatory funding for PILT at $549.4 million to over 1900 counties nationwide. In FY 2021, public lands counties received $529.7 million from PILT. Counties receive PILT monies related to reservation lands despite the fact that they provide minimal if any services on reservation lands. Counties often oppose land-into-trust applications because it cuts off the PILT monies they receive for basically doing next to nothing. New fee-to-trust and federal land transactions for tribes should be included in a separate tribal PILT program to ensure that PILT monies are continued for counties so they will be incentivized to work with tribal governments in their efforts to restore their tribal homelands instead of obstructing those efforts to protect the counties’ PILT habits.)
Finally, tribes should be eligible for inclusion in the LWCF program to ensure equity and further national conservation efforts. Conservation groups that have historically utilized the LWCF funding have a long history of lacking diversity and tribes have frequently been deterred from participating because of the inequitable and unfair match requirements which are simple not within many tribes’ capacity to meet. The data tells the story: between 1965 and 2016, only 92 out of 41,999 LWCF grants were awarded to tribal nations. That is outrageous, especially when you consider that Indian reservations encompass millions of acres land and water essential to our regional ecosystems.
Indian Country is grateful for the recent one-time investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. However, one-time investments to address challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change cannot and never will address two centuries of shortfalls in annual appropriations.
Additionally, our COLT member tribes are very disappointed that we have had no response in more than two months to my July 27, 2022 letter to you requesting waiver of the restrictions of the Build America, Buy America Act (“BABA”) as to the $500 million tribal set-aside in the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) Section 605 Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund (“LATCF”). Your failure to waive BABA requirements for tribes will reduce the effectiveness of relief monies and create perverse incentives for tribes to avoid investing these historic monies in desperately-needed infrastructure and instead favor non-infrastructure-related eligible uses, such as relief payments to tribal members. Indian Country needs the BABA waiver to ensure the highest and best use of the LACTF monies so we can start making a dent in the centuries of gross underinvestment on our reservations. We hope you can give your soonest attention to our request.
I look forward to a meeting to discuss the FY 2024 budget request. COLT member tribes prepared for hours for the September 12, 2022 OMB consultation on the FY 2024 budget and were dismayed that there was not time for them to be called upon despite being in queue for two hours.
We were likewise disappointed that numerous non-elected individuals were allowed lengthy time to speak ahead of tribal leaders. Our voices from the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains and the West were effectively silenced by our inability to participate in the time allotted and we hope to work with you to ensure sufficient time and the ability for regions to be equitably represented on future consultations, especially about matters as central as the fiscal year budget request.
Thank you for listening and for your inspiring leadership. You are among Indian Country’s most powerful voices and we are relying upon your continued strength and resolve on behalf of tribal nations.
Thank you for your consideration of our request.
The Coalition of Large Tribes is composed of the Blackfeet Nation, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Crow Nation, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation, the Navajo Nation, the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, the Spokane Tribe and the Ute Indian Tribe.
Indigenous Wire is a Native-owned, reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.