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Proposed Trump budget makes cuts to almost every tribal agency

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year is out and with cuts slated for almost every tribal agency, it is not kind to Indian Country.

Released on March 10, the Trump administration’s proposed $4.75 trillion budget calls for the Department of Interior to take a 14 percent decrease in fiscal year 2020.

Among all federal departments, Interior would take the sixth largest cut percentage-wise, trailing only the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture. 

Despite no consultation or prior public notice, the Trump administration’s budget proposes to separate the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education into two distinct entities. Both would still see a combined $323 million in funding cuts compared to the continuing resolution used to fund Interior agencies in 2019.

BIE manages the federal school system, which is comprised of 169 elementary and secondary schools and 14 dormitories, located on 64 reservations across 23 states. It also directly oversees Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque.

Although President Trump signed legislation in December calling for an updated count of Indigenous students eligible for supplemental services through the Johnson-O’Malley Program, there may not be extra money to deal with the anticipated student spike.

Despite National JOM officials projecting the eligible student population to increase five-fold since its last census in 1994, the Trump administration’s budget calls for JOM grant funding to decrease by $68,000.

The Trump administration’s budget also calls for an $8 million decrease in funding support costs associated with self-governance contracts and an $18 million cut to human services programs under the BIA umbrella, such as Indian Child Welfare Act programming and welfare assistance. The Office of the Special Trustee would also be hit with a $14.2 million cut.

Even with the steep cuts, a handful of agencies under the BIA slated to see increased funding under the proposal. The Trump administration’s budget requests an additional $2.5 million to address the opioid epidemic and another $13.8 million for self-governance compacts.

Indian Country’s potential fiscal hits are not just limited to the Department of Interior.

The Department of Agriculture, which oversees all federal nutrition assistance programs, would take a 15 percent budget cut, or $3.6 billion, under the Trump administration’s budget.

Among the USDA programs specifically targeted is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

Widely panned by hunger advocacy groups and nutritionists when proposed in 2018, the budget calls for partially replacing SNAP benefits with a box of canned and shelf-stable grocery items as part of a $17.4 billion cut over the next decade.

An estimated 610,000 Oklahomans rely on SNAP benefits, including more than 5,600 Osage County residents. Nationally, the SNAP participation rate among Native households is at 24 percent compared to 13 percent of the general non-Indian population.

Additionally, funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees both Indian Health Services and the Administration for Native Americans, is slated to take a $12.4 billion cut.

Although IHS would actually receive extra funds in the proposal, ANA, which provides grants and technical support for tribal language preservation programs, would not be as lucky. The Trump administration’s budget calls for it to absorb a 5.45 percent budget reduction.

The additional funds for IHS are specifically earmarked for HIV and Hepatitis C treatment programs and contract support costs. Prevention services, including the community health representatives and health education programming would actually see funding reductions.

Final approval of the federal budget rests with Congress, although the executive branch’s recommendations can be taken under consideration.