Recent Press Releases

Thune Seeks Aid to Indian Country in Budget

--Bipartisan Group Calls for Appropriating Money to Emergency Fund for Indian Health and Safety Authored Last Year by Thune--

March 23, 2009

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune today joined a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, urging them to include funding for the Emergency Fund for Indian Health and Safety in the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Resolution.

The Emergency Fund for Indian Health and Safety was created as a result of Senator Thune's amendment to a foreign assistance bill that became law last year, and it authorizes $2 billion over five years to address tribal law enforcement, health care, and water safety projects. Although the fund is authorized, Congress must act to appropriate money into the fund.

"The needs that exist in Indian Country are great, and quick action is required," said Thune. "The creation of the Emergency Fund for Indian Health and Safety was an important first step, but now Congress must act to ensure that the worthwhile goal of improving public safety, health care, and water quality in reservation communities is adequately funded. This budget can be the first step in fulfilling the promises Congress made last year."

Senator Thune's amendment creating the Emergency Fund for Indian Health and Safety authorizes $1 billion in public safety and health care funding to be divided as follows:
  • $750 million for Public Safety
    • $370 million for detention facility construction, rehabilitation, and placement through the Department of Justice;
    • $310 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Public Safety and Justice Account, which funds tribal police and tribal courts;
    • $30 million for investigations and prosecution of crimes in Indian Country by the FBI and U.S. Attorneys;
    • $30 million for the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Program for Indian and Alaska Native Programs; and,
    • $10 million for cross-deputization or other cooperative agreements between state, local, and tribal governments.

  • $250 million for Health Care - Divided as the Director of Indian Health Services determines between contract health service, construction and rehabilitation of Indian health facilities, and domestic and community sanitation facilities serving Indian tribes.

  • The remaining $1 billion is dedicated to water projects in tribal areas.
Senator Thune proposed an amendment to the recently passed Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus appropriations bill that would have appropriated $400 million to the Emergency Fund for Indian Health and Safety, but it was rejected, as were all amendments to the spending bill.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Senators Conrad and Gregg:

We are writing you to request that you assume the amounts 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") in the FY2010 Appropriations Committee 302(a) allocation. 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 found 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 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. We request that you include this amount in this year's budget resolution.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.


Senator John Thune
Senator Jon Kyl
Senator Byron Dorgan
Senator Tim Johnson
Senator Daniel Akaka
Senator Tom Udall
Senator Jeff Bingaman
Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Charles Schumer
Senator Jon Tester
Senator Lisa Murkowski
Senator Herb Kohl
Senator Michael Bennet
Senator Mark Begich
Senator Jim Risch
Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Russell Feingold
Senator Mike Johanns
Senator Max Baucus