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Senators Call for Stronger Support of Tribal Health Care

Write President to Fully Fund Contract Support Costs

Today U.S. Senators from the Western states protected the needs of Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Native peoples in a letter calling on President Obama to strengthen tribal self-governance, support economic self-sufficiency, and honor the government's agreements with Indian Tribes by fully funding contract support costs and joint venture staffing in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget request.

Tribal groups around the country contract with the government to deliver services such as running hospitals and clinics, providing welfare assistance, housing programs, and various other activities-all of which the federal government would otherwise be running.  However, the federal government annually short-changes tribes by refusing to fully pay certain administrative services known as "contract support costs."

Led by Senator Mark Begich the letter is signed by Senators Daniel Akaka (D - Hawaii), Max Baucus (D - Mont.), Jeff Bingaman (D - N.M.), Daniel Inouye (D - Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D - Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R - Alaska), Jon Tester (D - Mont.) and Tom Udall (D - N.M.).

In the letter they write (letter is available online here):

"To be clear, health care, law enforcement and other positions are not being filled because the government is failing to pay full contract support costs.  The federal government would never underpay ordinary procurement contractors their agency-approved costs in running government contracts, and a different rule not should apply here."

"The funding is critical to creating and preserving thousands of jobs in our smallest and largest communities," said Senator Begich. "As we have just shown HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Alaska tribal health providers are blazing new ground in health care that is a model for the country."

"Nobody understands the unique needs and challenges in Indian Country better than the tribal leaders and folks on the ground.  So by supporting local efforts to provide community services, we can help reach the most folks in need with the most effective use of our resources," said Montana's senior Senator Baucus.

"Like the rest of American, Indian Country is feeling the strain of the current economic downturn," said Senator Bingaman. "We must continue to meet our commitments to the Native American community.  Failure to do so would leave many tribal communities without the resources required to adequately meet the needs of their residents."

"Increasing funding for joint venture staffing packages and contract support costs for the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs has always been a top priority for me," said Senator Murkowski. "I am proud to cosign this letter urging the Administration to budget for the costs necessary for Tribal organizations."

"The United States government is failing to uphold its contractual obligations with sovereign tribes," said Senator Udall, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "We're asking the President to recommit the necessary resources to ensure that tribes can practice self-governance and to avoid compounding the already difficult economic situations they face."

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