Administration Agrees to Fully Pay Tribal Contract Support Costs
The Obama administration has reportedly agreed to congressional demands for it to abide by Supreme Court decisions requiring reimbursement of full tribal contract support costs (CSC).
Congressional members and staffers say that full CSC reimbursements tribes for 2014 “are reflected in revised spending plans for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) that are to be delivered to the House and Senate appropriations committees within a week,” according to a February 13 article published by The Washington Post. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a Chickasaw Nation citizen, is quoted in the article, saying the failure to fully pay tribes “should have never happened in the first place.”
The White House controversially suggested to Congress last year a cap on CSC reimbursements to tribes, despite tribal trust and treaty obligations and Supreme Court decisions that require total reimbursement.
Tribal supporters in Congress, including Alaska senators Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R), spoke out against the plan after tribal leaders made their bewilderment widely known to the administration.
The tide for tribes improved on this matter in January when Democratic and Republican Congress members announced a budget agreement that said the federal government must treat tribal contractors the same way as any other government contractor by getting reimbursed for work that they perform. Until 1999, payments to tribal contractors were reimbursed by the federal government, but at that time the IHS began citing budget shortfalls as a reason to not reimburse these costs. Since then, hundreds of millions of claims have gone unpaid to tribes.
In early February, as final budget considerations were underway at the White House, leaders with the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) told IHS Acting Director Yvette Roubideaux at a meeting in Arlington, Virginia that full CSC should be reimbursed this year, and they rebuked her for poor consultation on this and other budget issues in the recent past, pointing to a conference call set up by the administration earlier this year on short notice that was difficult for tribal leaders to attend.
“A conference call does not take the place of meaningful and constructive consultation and outreach,” Brian Patterson, president of USET, told Roubideaux.
“I think that using a call is difficult,” added Lynn Malerba, chairwoman of the Mohegan Tribe. “It’s not good consultation for you, and it doesn’t feel like consultation to us either.”
Roubideaux warned that the cost of paying for full CSC this year may end up being more than the amount of money that Congress has appropriated to her agency. “At this point, we have more things to fund than we have [in congressional appropriations for IHS],” she said at the February 5 meeting, adding that she wanted to confirm with tribal leaders that they would be fine with her dipping into other parts of her budget to pay all CSC obligations.
Malerba noted to Roubideaux that tribes have already faced a reduction in some services as a result of federal sequestration, so tribes are widely concerned about more reductions.
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