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Federal budget considered historic for Indian Country

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland testifies June 16, 2021, at a Senate subcommittee. (Image via U.S. Senate)

President Biden’s proposed $6 trillion federal budget would direct investments to Indian Country at levels that are being described as historic.

Biden already sent billions in funding to Indian Country through the American Rescue Plan that was signed into law in March. Those funds were largely designed to help mitigate immediate economic and health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now two more massive pieces of legislation – the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan – are being debated and negotiated in Congress. The two plans are part of Biden’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) testified June 16 before a Senate subcommittee about her department’s budget –  which includes billions across virtually all the programs and services at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

In all, the Interior would receive $17.6 billion, an increase of $2.5 billion, or 17%, over fiscal year 2021.

Haaland spoke about the budget’s importance for land consolidation, public safety, water claims settlements, climate issues and clean energy priorities. She singled out tribal broadband needs, infrastructure improvements and making sure funds are put directly into the hands of tribes, which has been an issue in past federal budgets and the source of court battles.

“Tribal nations know what’s best for their communities far better than we can say,” Haaland said at the hearing. “And that’s why we have been adamant about tribal consultations. We like to see direct funding go directly to tribes so they can make the decisions that they need to make.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency within the Interior Department, would see $2.7 billion in funding, $609.9 million more than in 2021.

“We are pleased with this new commitment that will bring much needed resources to Indian Country. With it also comes an increased capacity for BIA that will enable us to better support and administer programs held in trust for the benefit of American Indians and Alaska Natives,” BIA director Darryl LaCounte said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) would receive $1.3 billion for initiatives that support Native American students and teachers from early childhood through college, an increase of $110.6 million.

“With the dedicated financial resources outlined in this proposal, this funding would go a long way in supporting some of our most critical educational infrastructure needs and programs that serve students located in often geographically challenged locations across the country,” BIE director Tony L. Dearman said in a statement.

The BIE oversees 183 elementary schools, secondary schools and dormitories located on 64 reservations in 23 states serving 45,000 students. The BIE-funded and tribally controlled schools in Florida are the Ahfachkee School on the Seminole Tribe’s Big Cypress Reservation and the Miccosukee Indian School in western Miami-Dade County.

In addition, the chronically underfunded Indian Health Service (IHS) would also receive not seen before levels of investment for research and public health needs.

On June 16, an additional $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan funding was issued to IHS for Covid-19 related programs. This is in addition to the more than $4 billion that was announced in April.

Congress has until Sept. 30 – when fiscal year 2021 funding levels lapse – to pass new spending bills. 

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at