Government Shutdown Hits Native Americans Hard


While some communities may be spared from immediate effects from the government shutdown, that’s not true for anyone who is part of a Native American tribe. Thanks to the fact that a good number of their programs rely heavily on federal grant money, basic services in many tribes are being cut off, the Associated Press reports.

The services that are taking the hit include nutrition programs, financial assistance for low-income Native Americans, payments to vendors who provide foster care, and residential care for children and adults. Nutrition programs in particular are feeling the blow, which provide food to an average of 76,500 people a month in an estimated 276 tribes. During the previous shutdown in 1995, assistance payments for the poor, which total about $42 million a year, were delayed for about 53,000 Native American recipients.

Some tribes will cover the gap created by a lack of federal funds with their own money, which could risk opening deficits. But for others, the services will “take a direct hit,” reporter Matthew Brown writes. That’s due to a combination of losing federal money for programs that are heavily subsidized as well as tribal money that isn’t available because it’s being held by the Department of the Interior. “Essential” activities like law enforcement, firefighting, and some social services will not be impacted.

Individual tribes show how the pain is already playing out. The Crow Tribe in Montana has furloughed 300 workers due to both the shutdown and past budget cuts. This has meant that “home health care for the elderly and disabled, bus service for rural areas, and a major irrigation project were suspended indefinitely,” Brown reports. For the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, it means that money to help low-income members pay for heating won’t be distributed in the fall and general assistance has been cut.

Given that many Native American programs rely heavily on federal funds, they are often the first to feel the blow of any disruption. Schools on Native American reservations were among the first to be impacted by sequestration when it went into effect in March. Those cuts have meant that schools on or near reservations and military bases, which receive Impact Aid as a large portion of their budgets, have had to make devastating decisions. Of 83 schools surveyed, 31 cut staff, seven cut course offerings, and eight eliminated extra-curricular activities.

While these schools should be spared any negative effect from the shutdown if it only lasts a week or so, a longer duration could delay Impact Aid payments, according to a spokesperson for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.