Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune, along with other Senate colleagues, yesterday sent a letter to President Bush requesting that as federal agencies prepare their budgets for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, they should include funding authorized for tribal justice, health care, and water projects under Senator Thune's amendment to the foreign aid bill that was signed into law earlier this year. Senator Thune's amendment authorizes $2 billion over five years for public safety, health care, and water projects in Indian Country. The letter requests that the FY 2010 budget include $400 million to assist in addressing the significant needs that exist not only in South Dakota but across the country.

"The public safety crisis that exists in Indian Country will not be solved without giving law enforcement and courts the resources they need," said Thune. "Congress took an important step in authorizing $2 billion for tribal justice, health care, and water projects, and now we need to start allocating that money to where it is needed the most."

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently released a report showing that tribal jails are grossly insufficient and that only half of violent offenders in Indian Country are being incarcerated. The report calls for the construction or rehabilitation of over 250 detention facilities throughout Indian Country.

"The need for action in protecting public safety in Indian Country is great," added Thune. "The Interior report states what many tribal and local law enforcement leaders in South Dakota already know: improving the tribal justice system will improve public safety and quality of life on reservations in South Dakota and across the nation."

It is estimated that in parts of Indian Country as much as 35 percent of the population lacks access to clean, safe water for drinking and sanitation needs. The Indian Health Service estimates that for every dollar spent on improving water safety yields a twentyfold return in health benefits.

"Improving tribal water systems will result in lower disease rates and reduced health care costs while improving life expectancy on reservations. Access to clean water is a fundamental need that should be adequately addressed in America."

A copy of the letter follows.

November 17, 2008

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to request that the FY 2010 Budget Request include the funding authorized in Title VI of the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-293) (the "Act"). The funding would be used for desperately needed law enforcement, health care, and water projects benefitting American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Based on the U.S. Constitution, treaties with Indian tribes, and federal statutes, the United States has assumed a trust responsibility for the provision of public safety and health care to Indian people. The Native American population, however, is facing a public safety and health crisis due, in large part, to a lack of federal funding. Recognizing this fact, in July 2008, Congress authorized (1) $750,000,000 for law enforcement in Indian Country, (2) $250,000,000 for Indian health care, including contract health services, Indian health facilities, and domestic and community sanitation facilities, and (3) $1,000,000,000 for water supply projects that are part of Indian water settlements approved by Congress. See Sec. 601, P.L. 110-293. These amounts are in addition to any amounts made available under any other provision of law.
The funds authorized for public safety would begin to address the lack of staff and resources to arrest, prosecute, and detain criminals in Indian Country. According to a Justice Department study, American Indians experience violent crime at a rate more than twice the national average, yet funding for law enforcement in Indian Country is seriously deficient, contributing to serious public safety risks. For example, a 2004 Inspector General report showed that Indian detention facilitates are neither safe nor secure. The report states that "it became abundantly clear that some facilities we visited were egregiously unsafe, unsanitary, and a hazard to both inmates and staff alike. BIA's detention program is riddled with problems . . . and is a national disgrace."
A 2008 Department of the Interior-contracted report (the Shubnum Report) confirms that tribal jails are still grossly insufficient:

[o]nly half of the offenders are being incarcerated who should be incarcerated, the remaining are released through a variety of informal practices due to severe overcrowding in existing detention facilities. . . and life and safety of officers and inmates are at risk for lack of adequate Justice Facilities and programs in Indian Country.

The Shubnum Report recommends that the United States construct or rehabilitate 263 detention facilities throughout Indian Country at an estimated cost of $8.4 billion over the next ten years. Significant funding is also needed for the operation and maintenance of these facilities as well as tribal law enforcement and tribal judicial systems.

The health care funds authorized by the Act would help strengthen access to health care in Indian Country. Historically, Indians suffer from a greater incidence of illness and higher mortality rates than the general U.S. population. Indians are six and one-half times more likely to die from alcoholism, six times more likely to die from tuberculosis, and three times more likely to die from diabetes. Nevertheless, Indian health care funding remains inadequate. For example, the Indian Health Service (IHS) estimates that the unfunded total cost in FY 2008 to meet the need for IHS health care facilities was approximately $3.5 billion.

A drinking water crisis also is plaguing Indian Country. According to IHS, safe and adequate water supply and waste disposal facilities are lacking in approximately 11 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native homes, compared to one percent for the U.S. general population. In some areas of Indian Country, this figure is as high as 35 percent.

The lack of a reliable potable water supply in Indian Country results in a high incidence of disease and infection attributable to waterborne contaminants. IHS estimates that for every dollar it spends on safe drinking water and sewage systems, it achieves at least a twentyfold return in health benefits. The agency estimates that the cost to provide all American Indians and Alaska Natives with safe drinking water and adequate sewage systems in their homes is estimated to be over $2.3 billion.

In addition to inadequate safe drinking water and sewage systems throughout Indian Country, many tribes are facing water supply shortages. The cost of constructing the water supply infrastructure necessary to deliver water to these tribes would be an additional several billion dollars.

In order to begin to address the public safety and health care needs in Indian Country, Congress authorized $2,000,000,000 in appropriations for these priorities over a five-year period beginning October 1, 2008. See Sec. 601, P.L. 110-293. Accordingly, we request that the Budget include the total $2,000,000,000 for fiscal years 2010 through 2014. Of that amount, we are requesting that $400,000,000 be allocated in FY 2010. Pursuant to Title VI of the Act, the amounts requested in this letter are over and above any amounts already assumed in the baseline budget for American Indian and Alaska Native law enforcement, health programs, and water settlements.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.