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Tribal health facilities may get boost from $1.1 trillion federal spending bill

Bill needs congressional approval by midnight to avoid another shutdown

Posted: January 15, 2014 - 1:04am

Alaska’s tribal facilities could get a much-needed financial boost from a $1.1 trillion spending bill being considered in Congress.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Interior Department subcommittee, announced Monday that the department’s proposed budget fully funds operations costs at tribally-managed hospitals and clinics; it also includes $66.2 million to staff Alaska’s six new tribal facilities.

“The Republican-led response was to remove the caps through this budgeting process so that tribes may continue to rightfully receive what is owed in the operation of hospitals and clinics,” Murkowski said in a statement.

A July 2012 Supreme Court decision affirmed that the federal government is required to fully fund operational costs at tribal facilities. The decision said that when the federal government enters into a contract with tribes it must pay for the contracts in full. Despite the decision, Congress has continued to underfund the Indian Health Service.

Ed Thomas, president of Tlingit-Haida Central Council, said the funding bill is a reasonable start, but that it’s not the entire solution. He said he doesn’t agree with language in the bill that calls for tribal consultation regarding the contract support costs.

“From my perspective, when the Supreme Court does what it did, they should just come up with a way to pay the bill because it’s not money that’s imaginary,” Thomas said. “It’s expenses that we incurred managing their contracts and so they should just pay us for managing the contracts like they do other contracts.”

The spending bill would also increase money to Head Start; appropriate $1 million for the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation; $2.5 million for the Forest Service to manage subsistence on federal lands in Alaska; and a 1 percent raise for federal workers. There’s $10 million available to the State of Alaska, with a 25 percent match, to address drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in rural Alaska.

Congress needs to pass the spending bill by midnight Wednesday to avoid another government shutdown.

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/canfieldjenn.

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