Congress Considers Legislation to Shield Tribes from Government Shutdowns

Feb 15, 2019 | Congressional Legislation, News, Tribal Sovereignty

Late last night, the President pledged to sign H.J. Res. 31, a bill that would keep the government funded through the fiscal year. Although tribes will be spared another government shutdown for now, a future one is always possible. To mollify this concern, Congress is considering a number of bills that would shield tribes from some of the negative effects of a future government shutdown.

As we reported last month, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act (S.229) on January 25 that would secure funding in advance for critical programs at Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and the Indian Health Service (IHS), ensuring the programs stay open during future government shutdowns.

Since then, Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) have each introduced bills that would “authorize advance appropriations for essential tribal services funded by the federal government” by providing “federal funds for these programs a full year in advance.” Both bills enjoy bipartisan support, including co-sponsorships by Tom Cole (R-OK) and Deb Haaland (D-NM), the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

Although many Americans were negatively impacted by the first government shutdown, its impact on Indian Country was “extensive and deep,” according to Patrice Kunesh, director of the Center for Indian Country Development at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve.

This is partly because the public administration sector accounts for about 12.5 percent of all jobs on tribal reservations. In contrast, this sector accounts for only 4 percent of total jobs in nearby counties.

“Given that reservations rely heavily on federal funding (often pursuant to treaty provisions), we assume that their disproportionate reliance on government jobs extends to federal government jobs, such as in the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Service,” said Kunesh. “We assume that the combined dependence on direct federal jobs and federally funded jobs is distinctly higher on reservations than in most rural counties (where it is already higher than in most urban areas).”

Despite the tough times, many Native American tribes and businesses looked for ways to assist their communities and neighbors. Reports indicate that the Mescalero Apache tribe in New Mexico offered casino jobs to furloughed workers, and the Navajo Nation’s power company announced it would negotiate payment terms with government employees negatively affected by the shutdown.

Other tribes, including the Otoe-Missouria tribe, used revenue from their established businesses to alleviate the negative consequences of the shutdown. Tribal Chairman John Shotton stated, “Many people have asked whether the tribe will be impacted by the current government shutdown. I am pleased to tell you that no services will be lost at the Otoe-Missouria Tribe at this time … We are grateful that our Financial Services companies are doing well enough to carry us through this difficult time.”

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