Just how 'historic' is Biden White House's 2023 Indian Country budget request?
Awaiting crosscut breakdown from the administration.
WASHINGTON — For the first two years of the Biden administration, the White House has heralded its budget requests for Indian Country as “historic” in a number of ways.
(So much history is apparently being made — see below — that it is difficult at times to keep track.)
Now, during this important midterm election year, the White House is ramping up its messaging of what it is once again calling “historic” spending for Indian Country within its overall $5.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2023.
The messaging is intriguing, Native American advocates say, since the White House is widely seen as trying to tamp down the idea that it indiscriminately spent too much on pandemic-related matters in its first year without paying enough attention to deficit reduction (especially for the likes of Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, who effectively stalled any future Build Back Better legislative spending that would have delivered billions more to tribes).
Chickasaw U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who will become the longest-serving Native American congressman next month (more history!), is already saying that the $5.8 trillion is a bad overall idea that has “no chance” of passing either the House or Senate.
Inflation and rising gas prices have become the national measure of that prospect, and the fact that wealthy tribes received a disproportionate amount of pandemic spending during year one of the Biden administration has not gone unnoticed by tribes (especially poor ones who cannot afford top-notch lobbyists), economists, federal lawmakers and others.
“Grossly inequitable” distributions of pandemic funding to tribes has been a difficult headline for the administration to contend with — especially coming from Harvard researchers — since so many Biden officials have championed equity as a main focus of the administration’s first year and three months.
The White House has yet to publicly release a detailed, agency-by-agency account of its total proposed spending for Indian Country for 2023, so objectively measuring the “historic” nature of the request is difficult at this point.
What is known about key Indian Country 2023 budget items, per the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), are the following dollar amounts:
$9.1 billion for the Indian Health Service (IHS) and to shift IHS spending from discretionary to mandatory funding;
$4.5 billion for Department of the Interior tribal programs, including a proposal to reclassify Contract Support Costs and Section 105(l) Payments for Tribal Leases as mandatory, and mandatory funding to the Bureau of Reclamation for Indian Water Rights Settlements;
$1 billion for Department of Housing and Urban Development to expand affordable housing, improve housing conditions and infrastructure, and increase economic opportunities for low-income families throughout Indian Country;
$600 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect program, which provides grants and loans to deploy broadband to unserved rural and tribal areas;
$150 million to electrify tribal homes and transition tribal colleges and universities to renewable energy;
$122.5 million for the Department of Justice to help address gender-based violence in Indian Country; and
$77 million for USDA tribal programs to increase equity and expand tribal self-governance.
Those numbers add up to less than $16 billion.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 request stood at $28.8 billion for Indian Country. Unless there is a major chunk of change hidden from the NCAI’s initial analysis, the current midterm budget request is likely to be much less “historic” than last year’s proposal.
Yet the word “historic” is listed no less than 8 times in a fact sheet issued yesterday by the White House, titled, “President Biden’s FY 2023 Budget Honors Commitments to Tribal Nations and Tribal Communities.”
In the first paragraph alone, there are two “historic” mentions: “The President’s Budget for fiscal year 2023 makes historic investments in Tribal communities and lays the foundation for shared growth and prosperity for decades to come. The President’s 2023 Budget makes historic investments in programs and activities benefiting Tribal Nations, organizations, communities, and Native American individuals.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior, which sees a large bulk of Indian Country-related funding each year, has been more measured with its use of the word “historic” in its messaging.
Interior’s 2023-focused press release on the issue is titled, “President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Makes Significant Investments in Indian Affairs Programs,” and it mentions “historic progress” one time.
In comparison, Interior’s 2022-focused press release on the issue likewise was titled, “President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Makes Significant Investments in Indian Affairs Programs,” and it mentioned “historic investments” one time.
This year, while the 2023 budget request meets some important wish-list items of tribal leaders, including mandatory funding for Indian Health Service programs, it still appears to fall far short of the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request.
Again, the 2022 Biden administration’s total budget request, across federal agencies, for Indian Country totaled $28.8 billion, according to White House documents. Significant additional pandemic funding that tribes have ended up receiving was not included in that request, and such funding is not likely to happen again anytime soon.
The administration is expected to release a crosscut of federal Indian Country spending across agencies today at 1 p.m. ET during a briefing with tribal leaders.
Indigenous Wire has asked the White House the following questions, and we will update when we hear back:
What is the total FY2023 budget request for Indian Country across agencies? Last year's total request was $28.8 billion. If the total request is less or more, please detail in specific ways that the request has changed and why.
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