The Norman Transcript

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October 3, 2013

Shutdown’s hit magnified for tribes

CROW AGENCY, Mont. — American Indian tribes have more than access to national parks on the line with the government shutdown, as federal funding has been cut off for crucial services including foster care payments, nutrition programs and financial assistance for the needy.

For the 13,000 members of southeast Montana’s Crow Tribe, the budget impasse had immediate and far-reaching effects: Tribal leaders furloughed more than 300 workers Wednesday, citing the shutdown and earlier federal budget cuts.

As a result, tribal programs including home health care for the elderly and disabled, bus service for rural areas, and a major irrigation project were suspended indefinitely.

“It’s going to get hard,” said Shar Simpson, who leads the Crow’s home health care program. “We’re already taking calls from people saying, ‘Who’s going to take care of my mom? Who’s going to take care of my dad?”’

Some tribes intend to fill the gap in federal funds themselves, risking deficits of their own to cushion communities with chronic high unemployment and poverty against the effects of the budget battle.

“Do we just throw kids onto the street, or do we help them? Most likely we’re going to help those families and do whatever we can until this is unresolved,” said Tracy “Ching” King, president of northern Montana’s Fort Belknap Reservation.

But for other tribes, basic services stand to take a direct hit. That includes programs heavily subsidized by federal agencies and others paid for with tribal money that is suddenly unavailable because it’s being held by the Department of Interior, tribal leaders said.

Essential activities such as law enforcement, firefighting and some social services will continue, said Bureau of Indian Affairs spokeswoman Nedra Darling. Programs that did not make the list include residential care for children and adults, cash assistance for the poor and payments to vendors who provide foster care.

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