Apr 12 2018
Heitkamp: President’s Budget Cuts to Law Enforcement, Public Safety Programs in Indian Country Unacceptable
At Senate Hearing, Heitkamp Grilled Key BIA Official on how President’s Budget would Slash Federal Funding for Law Enforcement, Corrections, & Tribal Courts in Indian Country
President’s Budget would also Eliminate Critical Housing, Energy, & Education Programs for Tribes
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hearing on the president’s budget proposal for Indian programs, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp raised concerns about proposed cuts to critical law enforcement and public safety programs in Indian Country.
At the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing, Heitkamp described proposed cuts in the budget as endangering the safety of many tribal communities, which already face underfunded law enforcement services and overwhelmed tribal justice programs and courts. The budget for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would include a $35.6 million decrease in funding to support 190 law enforcement, 96 corrections, and 185 tribal courts programs operated by the BIA.
“The safety and security of our tribal communities should be the top priority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but the president’s budget would woefully underfund baseline tribal public safety services, including in North Dakota,” said Heitkamp. “This budget shows the president’s priorities – and that matters. The budget would eliminate or reduce important programs for Indian Country from tribal law enforcement support initiatives to housing assistance grants, and that sends the wrong message to Native communities. The continued crime, poverty, and addiction challenges on reservations require urgent attention, especially at a time when we’re witnessing grossly inadequate numbers of peace officers and mental health professionals in Indian Country. We must push back against senseless cuts to tribal safety as Congress works to honor our trust obligation to Indian tribes.”
Heitkamp has also criticized the budget’s proposed elimination of vital economic development programs in Indian Country. It would end funding for the Indian Community Development Block Grants program, which allows tribes to improve housing stock, community facilities, and business opportunities on their reservations. Additionally, the Native American Community Development Financial Institution Assistance Program—a program that boosts Native individuals’ access to credit, capital, and financial services—would be slashed.
The president’s budget for Indian programs would also include significant cuts to other critical social safety net, low-income assistance, and education programs, including:
- The elimination of the Johnson-O’Malley Program, which makes sure Native American students in public schools receive the federal education support they need. Recently, Heitkamp’s bipartisan bill to strengthen the program passed in the U.S. Senate.
- The elimination of the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program and the elimination of the tribal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income families and seniors get home heating assistance.
- The elimination of the BIA Housing Improvement Program, which provides housing and home improvement to the neediest individuals to help end substandard housing and homelessness in Native communities. The proposal also includes a $54 million decrease in Native American Housing Block Grants.
Heitkamp has long been working to raise awareness about crime and build a robust public safety infrastructure in Indian Country. Last month, Heitkamp and U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced that their bipartisan bill to expand AMBER Alerts in Indian Country passed the U.S. Senate and has been sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law. By making tribes eligible for AMBER Alert system resources, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and government officials will better be able to coordinate to find and rescue missing or abducted children, particularly if they have been taken off of their reservation.
And in January, Heitkamp and tribal leaders from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe held an open session on the reservation for tribal members to come tell their stories of loved ones who are missing or murdered to various law enforcement officials. They also discussed how to achieve better outcomes and collaboration between the tribe and law enforcement in these cases. Heitkamp brought to the discussion officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Marshals, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations, and Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains.
Last October, Heitkamp introduced Savanna’s Act to make sure North Dakota’s tribes have the information and resources they need to protect women and girls from violence, abduction, and human trafficking. The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on the legislation, and it has attracted strong bipartisan support. Companion legislation was also introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Norma Torres (D-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK).