The President’s proposed budget will cut general welfare assistance, used to improve living conditions and provide basic needs for poor American Indian families and children, by $22 million for FY09. With the country slipping into a recession and unemployment rates well above the national average, the President’s proposed budget fails to meet the needs of Indian Country. House and Senate budget resolutions also decrease overall funding for Indian programs, but still allocate more funds than the President’s budget plans. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is requesting additional funds to improve health care, housing, education, public safety and justice—-and for the federal government to satisfy its obligations towards Indian tribal governments.
In contrast to this funding decrease, the Senate recently passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act by a vote of 83-10, and the act is now under consideration by the House of Representatives. As the first update to Indian Health Care legislation in 16 years, this act will benefit over 1.8 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives on reservations by infusing $35 billion into the Indian Health Care system over the course of 10 years. If enacted, the bill would allow for the modernization and construction of new health clinics, increase access to Medicare and Medicaid, bolster mental health programs, increase cancer and diabetes screenings, expand disease prevention programs, help recruit nurses and doctors to serve American Indian populations, and improve or create a number of additional programs. Under treaties signed by the US government and Indian populations, the federal government is responsible for providing health care for American Indians. This legislation will help erase disparities that exist between American Indian healthcare and that of the average American.
Following Australia’s formal apology to Aborigines for years of racist policies and abuse, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) pushed for an amendment to the Indian health care bill that would offer an official apology from the US federal government to American Indians. The amendment, which recognizes the impact of unjust federal policies and acts, including—but not limited to—forced displacement, mistreatment and broken treaties, passed by voice vote on the Senate floor.