U.S. Sen. Tom Udall describes measure as essential

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FARMINGTON — A group of Democratic U.S. senators has introduced a measure to authorize advance funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service and contract support cost programs.

The proposal would extend advance appropriations to those agencies and programs, and prevent funding lapses during future government shutdowns or by short-term funding packages.

The Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act would reclassify BIA and IHS programs, self-determination contracts and self-governance compacts to an advance funding cycle beginning in fiscal year 2020.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is among those backing the bill and spoke about it during a press conference call on Friday.

The recent shutdown caused the BIA to furlough workers and numerous IHS employees to work without pay, Udall said. It also caused tribes operating their own health clinics and public safety programs to dip into reserve funding to meet demands, the senator added.

"This legislation is an essential measure to ensure that we are fully meeting our trust and treaty obligations to tribes. It goes to the very core of our government-to-government relationship," Udall said.

Ron Allen, tribal council chairman for the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe in Washington state, called the proposal a silver lining to the shutdown because it highlights the need for those programs to secure funding in advance in order for services to tribal members not to be disrupted.

"This kind of legislation is something that Indian Country has been pursuing for many, many, many years," Allen said during the press conference.

National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel said the federal government's trust responsibility should not be considered discretionary.

The annual effort to ensure that health, education and public safety receive funding should not be fought, Keel said.

The partial government shutdown ended Friday when President Trump agreed to sign a bill passed by the Senate and the House to reopen the government until Feb. 15.

Until then, lawmakers are expected to continue negotiations regarding security for the country's southern border.

Before the end of the shutdown, tribal leaders during the press conference shared details about its impact on Indian Country.

Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. J. Michael Chavarria said the shutdown caused significant harm to tribal communities due of lost wages, disruption in services and legal limbos because of furloughed federal attorneys and solicitors.

"Losing a single paycheck can have a serious implication for any individual or family that lives on limited income in a community," Chavarria said. "Like a harmful domino, a loss bank deposit can topple the family's sense of financial and emotional security."

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said he supports Udall's effort, but he questioned whether there will be support for it from the White House.

Udall said his office will share information with the Trump administration in hopes it receives support after passage in Congress.

Nez explained Navajo Nation officials had been staying updated about the shutdown, and the tribe was using reserve funding from self-determination contracts and self-governance compacts, and the tribe's general fund to cover operational expenses.

He added his office has been collecting nonperishable food and personal items to distribute to federal workers.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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