Which federal agency allocates the most assistance to tribes? The Bureau of Indian Affairs? Not even close.

$20 Billion: Total US Support for American Indians

Mark Fogarty

Ever wonder how much assistance the federal government allocates to American Indian tribes and communities each year? It comes to about $20 billion a year, give or take a few hundred million dollars, a document from the Department of the Interior shows.

The President’s fiscal 2015 budget request was for $19.6 billion cumulative through all government agencies, according to DOI. It is worth it to remember that Congress can and does change Presidential budget requests, but the DOI document is a good proxy for total assistance.

That’s up about five percent from the fiscal 2014 “Omnibus” budget of $18.7 billion and a little more from the fiscal 2013 operating plan, with sequester, of $18.6 billion.

Which federal agency allocates the most assistance to tribes? The Bureau of Indian Affairs? Not even close. The Department of Health and Human Services spends more than twice as much assistance as the whole Department of the Interior, which includes the BIA.

The President’s request for HHS Native assistance for 2015 was $6.7 billion, also up about five percent from 2014. DOI came to $3.2 billion, up a modest 2.5 percent from 2014.

The Department of Education was second to HHS, with $5.6 billion slated to go to tribes and tribal communities. That’s an increase of about four percent from 2014.

DOI was third, including $2.6 billion for BIA. The only other agency with more than $1 billion in Native assistance was the Department of Agriculture, at $1.8 billion.

Looking at individual programs within those agencies, the Indian Health Service was slated for $5.8 billion, a four percent increase. Next largest was a puzzling “other” amount “for indirect support,” $4.5 billion for the Department of Education.

Luckily there is a footnote that makes this whopping “other” number a little clearer. According to DOI, indirect funding numbers mean: “all figures are based on estimates of the number of Indian individuals served by the respective programs. The total includes all HEA Title IV student aid, including loan volume.”

The Food and Nutrition Service for the Department of Agriculture was slated to be funded for $1.7 billion, including $120 million for Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (commodities), $1.1 billion for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Child Nutrition Program, $390 million, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at $129 million.

All these programs showed increases in assistance for 2015. Some others showed decreases, and others were stagnant. The Tribal Energy Program of the DOE, for instance, got zeroed out, a 100 percent decline. But the DOE’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs got a 433 percent increase, from $3 million to $16 million. Housing programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which have stagnated for years, eked out a 0.3 percent gain.

There is probably pretty general agreement that expenditures on health, nutrition and education are vitally important in Indian country. Which types of assistance don’t seem to be a priority?

The Department of Defense shows a big fat zero, down from $26 million in 2013. Help for Indian veterans, $40 million. The Department of Treasury, where the money is, shows $69 million. Jobs and business are near the bottom as well, with $21 million for the Department of Commerce and $58 million for the Department of Labor. The Small Business Administration is in for an additional $2 million.

Slightly higher but still not very high are the Environmental Protection Agency at $285 million and the Department of Justice, at $395 million.

What are the Native priorities for DOJ? The second-biggest Native allocation there is  $119 million, for the Bureau of Prisons.

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