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Dan Gunderson, Published September 01 2013

Sequestration hits Indian Country hard

MOORHEAD – Automatic federal budget cuts ordered this spring were devastating on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota.

More than half of the White Earth tribal government budget, about $30 million, is federal funding. Reservation leaders are planning for a 5 percent budget cut this year and expecting a 9 percent cut next year if the cuts continue, Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said.

“It is devastating to us, and it’s not going to be for one or two years,” she added. “It’s going to go on probably 10 years until that federal budget is balanced.”

Many tribal governments get most of their funding from federal programs, so they will see across-the-board cuts in tribal services.

Much of the federal money goes to health care, education and housing.

While Medicare, Medicaid, veterans health care and other programs are protected from sequestration cuts, Indian Health Services will be cut, said U.S. House Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat who represents Minnesota’s 4th District.

Reservation schools are already laying off staff in anticipation of significant cuts to federal impact aid. That’s money schools get because they can’t levy property taxes on federal lands.

Forcing tribes to use their own limited revenue for basic services will undermine progress made by tribes on domestic violence, student dropout rates, substance abuse and other social issues, McCollum said.

“Those are all the things Indian Country was really starting to focus on in a very solid way,” McCollum said. “All that gets put on hold when you’re just trying to stay alive.”