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HomeGovernmentCongress passes FY2016 bills for health benefit, scholarships and burial assistance

Congress passes FY2016 bills for health benefit, scholarships and burial assistance

By

Benny Polacca

On Day Two of the Seventh Special Session, the Fourth Osage Nation Congress passed four appropriation bills ahead of the 19 total bills up for consideration.

Those bills approved first are the 2016 fiscal year appropriations to fund the Nation’s burial assistance fund at $450,000 (ONCA 15-56 sponsored by Congresswoman Angela Pratt); the health benefit fund at $6 million (ONCA 15-57 sponsored by Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead); and the higher education scholarship fund at $8 million (ONCA 15-58 sponsored by Congressman Archie Mason). The Congress also approved a separate $1.5 million appropriation bill (ONCA 15-59 sponsored by Congressman Ron Shaw) to fund the health benefit fund for the remainder of the 2015 fiscal year.

With the FY 2016 appropriation bills passed in special session, the Congress has committed $14,450,000 for spending next year leaving approximately $29 million remaining to budget for governmental operations and other matters and projects up for consideration.

Earlier this year, the Congress approved the FY2016 projected revenue figure at $43.7 million. According to the Osage Constitution, the Congress cannot approve annual budgets that exceed projected revenues.

The three FY2016 appropriation bills approved on July 14 passed with 10-1 votes with one “no” from Shaw and one absence from Mason. Those bills were advanced through the legislative process, leading to final votes without being initially considered in a Congressional committee meeting.

Shaw said he voted “no” for the three bills stating he was concerned about the Congress breaking from normal legislative procedure of hearing the bills in a committee meeting before a floor vote. Shaw added his “no” vote was not intended to protest the health and scholarship program funding efforts, but he preferred the Congress consider those appropriation matters when all of the budget and accounting information is available for consideration.

Congresswoman Shannon Edwards said the FY2016 bill numbers are based on information provided by the Treasurer’s office and based on the prior year’s spending. She added “we need to send a message of support” regarding the bills’ approval.

On July 13, the first day of session, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear addressed the Congress and noted his administration submitted the 2016 budgets on July 10, just days ahead of the Congressional deadline for budgets. Those budgets will now be subject to Congressional review, which Standing Bear said extends over 125 separate budgets for the Nation’s departments and programs.

In his address, Standing Bear acknowledged the three FY2016 bills: “These (three bills’) amounts were determined after careful review of what unspent and unencumbered money still remains in the funds and what is expected to be needed. The only unknown, as I have repeatedly said before, is what is the wish of the Congress on the carry-over provisions of the Health Benefit Card? The answer to that question is a $1.5 million dollar or more answers and we need it determined one way or another. Working with what we know, we have found a way to fund all three funds without reaching into our Permanent Fund or asking for additional money from our gaming enterprise.”

Standing Bear also urged the Congressional approval of the three FY2016 bills to keep the three Osage “entitlement” programs out of the annual budget debates, noting his office provided the Congress with the supporting documentation to justify the budget amounts and that he would call another special session if the Congress voted down the bills.

Buffalohead said she supported the bills noting the burial assistance, health benefit and scholarship programs “are a top priority of the Nation.”

Pratt said she supported the bills and said the Congress should meet the Executive Branch in the middle since it’s been active in bringing the necessary budget information for review.

Congressman RJ Walker said he, like Shaw, also did not agree with the fast-tracking of the FY2016 bills, but would vote “yes,” adding he expects to review more budget information in the fall.

On the FY2015 bill for the health benefit plan for $1.5 million, that bill passed unanimously 11-0. All four bills will now go to Standing Bear’s office for his signature.

Most of the Nation’s governmental operations budgets will be considered during the 2015 Tzi-Zho Session when that 24-day session starts Sept. 8. The Nation’s 2016 fiscal year starts Oct. 1. 


Original Publish Date: 2015-07-14 00:00:00

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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.
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