Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Money for Native Americans, but Health Care Improvements Still Stalled

Money for Native Americans, but Health Care Improvements Still Stalled
Native American Legislative Update, July 30, 2008

Congress added much needed funds for Native Americans to legislation expected to be signed into law this month, but the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (H.R. 1328) is still stalled in the House. We begin this Native American Legislative Update with some recent positive news:

Positive Legislative Developments

Additional Money. Two billion dollars in additional funding for Indian health, law enforcement, and water supply and safety projects were included in a $50 billion global health initiative approved by Congress and sent to the president in late July. These funds were secured through a bipartisan effort in the Senate. The president is expected to sign the appropriations bill.

Continuation of Diabetes Funding. The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act includes a two-year reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Native Americans at the current funding level, $150 million per year. The Senate voted 70-26 to override the president's veto of the Medicare bill.

Heightened Attention to Victims of Crime. On June 19 and July 23, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held hearings on law enforcement problems. Committee chair Byron Dorgan (ND) introduced the "Tribal Law and Order Act" to help improve law enforcement. It has 12 sponsors.

Legislation Still Requires Public Support

Indian Health Care Legislation Stalled in the House: The Indian Health Care Improvement Act has passed the Senate and been approved by all three committees of jurisdiction in the House. It is ready for floor action.

Your representative will be back in your area for most of August. This is a prime opportunity for you to tell her or him that you hope this legislation will be approved by the full House in September. If this legislation is not approved in the Senate before the 110th session of Congress ends, legislators will have to start all over with the process of modernizing health care in Indian Country with the 111th Congress next year.

Read a
briefing on what the Indian Health Care Improvement Act would do(PDF) prepared by the National Indian Health Board.

Take Action

Urge your representative to speak out in favor of this legislation and to call on the House leadership to schedule a vote on final passage for September.

Ongoing Commitment to Indian Health. Reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act has been a decade-long advocacy process. At many key moments, non-Indian organizations have supported Native leaders and organizations. The most recent joint letter to the House was signed by these groups:

American Friends Service Committee

American Humanist Association
Church of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
Mennonite Church USA
Methodist General Board of Church and Society
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Sojourners Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Seventh-Day Adventists sent letters in support of H.R. 1328 for "humanitarian" reasons. The Religious Action Committee of Reform Judaism broadcast an action alert to its network to assist Native American families. The appeal contained this paragraph:

Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of the community providing health care for its vulnerable members. Maimonides, a revered Jewish scholar and physician, listed health care first on his list of the ten most important communal services that a city must offer its residents. Nearly every self-governing Jewish community throughout history set up systems to ensure that [its] citizens had access to health care. Furthermore, the Talmud teaches, "Whoever is in pain, lead him to the physician" (Baba Kamma 46B) and the Torah commands, "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16).

Baptist and Presbyterian organizations, Church Women United, National Council of Jewish Women, and other faith-based groups signed letters sent earlier to the Senate.

Delay Continues. Floor action on the Indian Health Care Improvement Action is not expected until the fall.

Many people are unaware that the Apology Resolution sponsored by Senator Brownback (KS) was added to S. 1200. The strongly worded and very specific resolution would apologize for past government misdeeds towards Native Americans. It would "acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States government regarding Indian tribes, and offer an apology to all Native Peoples."

* More Delay. The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) has passed both Houses of Congress and is ready to go to conference to resolve differences in the bills. NAHASDA undergirds Indian housing programs in areas such as home ownership and community development. The House of Representatives has named conferees but, to date, the Senate has been reluctant to do so.

Will Financial Justice Prevail in Court?

The Cobell v. Kempthorne lawsuit on behalf of half-a-million Native Americans is coming to an end. The trial on the money phase of the case was held in June; final legal briefs were submitted July 21. In August, U.S. District Court Judge James Roberson will render a verdict in the Individual Indian Money trust fund case.

Based on lack of accounting for 120 years, the plaintiffs asserted that Indians were owed $56 billion in restitution, while the government asserted that its research found few accounting mistakes. The government testified that experts hired by the Department of the Interior reviewed a set of account ledgers and identified a single error, for $60.94. The government argued that, overall, more errors of overpayment than underpayment were found. By the end of the trial, the plaintiffs argued for $47 billion. As it had for 12 years, the government resisted any reimbursement. By the end of the trial, the government argued that if a monetary award was given "it should be a low amount indeed" because $409.8 million was the most that could not be explained regarding missing disbursements. The government's begrudging total would result in payment of $817 per plaintiff.

letter to the editor from FCNL was published in the Washington Post.

Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 2nd Street NE
Washington, DC 20002

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