Jon Kyl: Helping Native Americans
By Jon Kyl
Jul 22, 2008
The Senate recently authorized $2 billion to support public safety, health and drinking water needs in Indian Country. I cosponsored the amendment with Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) to authorize the funding, which was adopted as part of a larger foreign aid bill, known as the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).
The PEPFAR program has been successful in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa over the last five years. The legislation the Senate recently adopted would have increased to $50 billion the authorization for the program over the next five years, more than tripling the original $15 billion authorization.
While fighting HIV/AIDS outside of this country is clearly a worthy cause, Congress must also meet its obligation to citizens here at home. Especially with such high fuel and food prices and the mortgage crisis, I did not believe we could afford to spend $50 billion abroad. I, therefore, supported amendments to reduce and restrict the spending (they were unsuccessful) and offered the amendment to at least divert $2 billion of the $50 billion to fund critical needs of Native Americans.
Native Americans are facing a public safety and health crisis because of a lack of federal funding. A 2004 report by the Interior Department Inspector General stated that “some [Indian detention] facilities we visited were egregiously unsafe, unsanitary, and a hazard to both inmates and staff alike. [Bureau of Indian Affairs’s] detention program is riddled with problems . . . and is a national disgrace.” A 2008 Interior report confirms that tribal jails are still grossly insufficient, stating that: “[o]nly half of the offenders are being incarcerated who should be incarcerated, the remaining are released through a variety of informal practices due to severe overcrowding in existing detention facilities.”
In the Navajo Nation, a number of detention facilities have been closed for health and safety reasons. In 2007, it only had bed space for 59 inmates to serve a total of 50,947 inmates booked into its facilities. The overcrowding that has resulted has caused the majority of tribal court judges to defer or reduce sentences, and often they must release and return serious offenders to their community within hours.
Federal funding is also needed to meet critical water needs. According to the Indian Health Service, about 11 percent of Native Americans lack adequate water supply and waste disposal facilities in their homes. In Arizona, almost a third of households on the Navajo Nation do not have a public water system and are forced to haul water long distances to provide drinking water to their families.
Specifically, my amendment will direct up to $1 billion toward law enforcement and health projects. That amount will go towards, for example, detention facility construction, rehabilitation, and replacement, as well as safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. The measure also provides up to $1 billion for Indian water supply projects approved by Congress; this funding could be very helpful in implementing Indian water settlements in Arizona.
I am pleased that I was able to redirect $2 billion to help Native American communities; but I could not, in the end, support the larger PEPFAR bill that still authorized $48 billion for the foreign aid. It’s just too much to spend at a time when Americans are feeling pain at the gas pump, in the housing market, and at the grocery store.
U.S. Senator Jon Kyl is the Assistant Republican Leader and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his website here.
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