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FAIRBANKS - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson committed his federal agency to do more for Alaska during a weekend tour of the state.
"Alaska has not been given the proper attention from the federal government. ... Every year for as long as I am secretary, I will bring people up here to learn and find out from the people of Alaska how we can do a better job," Thompson said. "We want to form a real strong and viable partnership."
He also announced the start of a study of the relationship between Alaska Natives and federal programs.
"By finding out which programs Alaska Natives are enrolling in, we can determine how best to provide services to those Alaskans in greatest need," he said.
Thompson, accompanied by Sen. Ted Stevens, came bearing more than a dozen federal grant announcements for the state, including $10 million for health care. The secretary said the federal government would continue with more than $5 million in existing grants.
The grants include $7.6 million to fund programs to help children. The money will help build Head Start facilities in Angoon, Elim and Teller.
"There is a huge amount of drug abuse, child abuse, fetal infant syndromes, as well as suicides. And there needs to be a lot of counseling and we intend to provide the resources to accomplish that," Thompson told the Alaska Public Radio Network during an appearance Sunday at the Alaska Native Health Consortium building in Anchorage.
The grant awards include $3.75 million for substance abuse prevention and treatment in Alaska.
Thompson said about $1.75 million has been earmarked for services and programs in the Interior. The two grants include $1 million for the care of emotionally disturbed children and almost $750,000 for substance abuse treatment for young mothers.
Thompson's itinerary included stops in the Interior, Anchorage, Dillingham and Bristol Bay.
Thompson has a track record of finding solutions to difficult social issues. During his four terms as governor of Wisconsin, he was perhaps best known for shepherding in the state's landmark welfare-to-work legislation, which became a national model for welfare reform.
"We will be putting a tremendous emphasis on Alaska in the Department of Health and Human Services," Thompson said.