US government shutdown puts a strain on services for Native Americans
The fallout from the federal government shutdown is hurting Native Americans as dwindling funds hamper access to health care and other services. The pain is especially deep in tribal communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment, where one person often supports an extended family.
The effects were felt in the distance.
In New Mexico, a lone policeman patrolled a Native American reservation larger than Houston on a shift that normally consists of three people, responding to several car wrecks during a blizzard, emergency calls and requests for control of social assistance.
Elsewhere, federally funded road maintenance programs operate with small crews and struggle to keep roads clear on remote reserves. Tribe members said they could not get referrals for specialist care from the Indian Health Service if their condition was not life threatening.
Native American tribes rely heavily on funding secured by treaties with the United States, Acts of Congress, and other agreements for public safety, social services, education, and health care for their members. Due to the shutdown, tribal officials say some programs are on the verge of collapse and others are surviving, with tribes filling funding gaps.
Thousands of people working without pay
About 9,000 Indian health service workers, or 60%, work without pay and 35% work with funding streams unaffected by the closure, according to the health and human services department’s closure plan. This includes staff providing direct patient care. The agency provides health care to approximately 2.2 million Indigenous people in Alaska and other states.
The agency receives money from the Home Office, whose budget is trapped by the shutdown. For many tribesmen, IHS is the only option for health care unless they want to pay out of pocket or have other insurance. The benefits of programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are not affected by the partial government shutdown.
Much of the administrative work at IHS was interrupted, and although most of it did not have an immediate effect on the delivery of health care, some patients experienced delays.
Clara Pratte’s mother, 68, had surgery to clear the vision in one of her eyes earlier this month, but the Navajo woman was unable to get a referral from IHS for an appointment you follow up after increased pressure in his eye. .
“We are managing, but it’s a matter of when the government might open up again to have it assessed by a specialist,” Pratte said.
In Washington state, the Seattle Indian Health Board plans to cut services if the federal shutdown continues for more than a week or two. Endangered programs include a hospital treatment center for chemical dependence and a traditional medicine program that includes a sweat lodge, storytelling and drumming to help people recover, government affairs official Aren said. Sparck.
About a quarter of the organization’s funding comes from the IHS, he said.
IHS spokesman Joshua Barnett said tribal and urban health programs can continue to operate, but the agency cannot fund them during the shutdown.
Leaders urge Congress to reopen government
Leaders of Native American organizations wrote to Congress Thursday to describe the impact of the closure on their communities, including on education, housing programs, child welfare and economic development.
“The long-term effects of this closure will reverberate through all of our communities for months, if not years, after government reopens,” read the letter released by the National Congress of American Indian.
Michelle Begay was fired at the end of December from her administrative job at IHS and said she could not look for work in the same field under agency regulations.
She doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for her daughter’s college parking pass or a plane ticket to Chicago to see her son graduate from a naval academy next month without dipping into his savings. If she does, she may not be able to cover her house payment and utilities beyond January.
Watch: The impact of the US government shutdown continues to grow
Begay had also applied for health insurance from her employer ahead of the New Year to avoid high deductibles on her husband’s plan, but the documents were not processed due to the shutdown. She recently paid $ 600 to be examined for bronchitis, but couldn’t cover the costs when she was hit with a second fight. She went to an IHS clinic after calling for three days to get an appointment.
“I was very lucky, my situation was treatable,” she said. “My lung didn’t collapse, that’s what really worried them. But, still, I had to wait two, almost three days to be seen.”
According to its contingency plan, another federal agency serving Native Americans, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, is expected to lay off nearly 2,300 of its approximately 4,060 workers. A spokesperson for the agency did not respond to messages left by the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, tribal communities were trying to help the workers on leave.
The Mescalero Apache in south-central New Mexico offered jobs to people in its casino and ski lodge. The Navajo Nation Power Company has said it will work with any employees on leave who are struggling to pay their bills.
‘Everyone is in mourning’
With the shutdown now entering its third week, the pressure on the tribes was expected to increase.
Gabe Aguilar, vice president of Mescalero Apache, said a winter storm in late December dumped more than three feet of snow on the mountain reserve. The BIA is running the police force there, laying off much of the staff and limiting the ability to answer calls, Aguilar said.
In one case, concerned relatives of an elderly man asked police to watch him as they could not get out of their own driveway, Aguilar said. By the time the authorities arrived at his home, Aguilar said the man was dead. He stopped before blaming the federal shutdown.
“I don’t want to enter a finger pointing contest because right now everyone is in mourning,” he said. “It did happen, however, an elder has passed away. It’s tough, it’s tough work and I wouldn’t say what could have been.”
Democratic members of Congress, including US Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico and Representative Sharice Davids from Kansas, cited the man’s death as an example of the impacts of the shutdown.
“Every day the president continues to treat tribal health and public safety programs as hostages for political ends endangering families across the Indian country,” Udall told the Senate this week.
Javier Kinney, executive director of the Yurok Tribe in Northwest California, said the tribe is about 90% funded by federal grants and is stretching its budget and using its financial reserves to provide services to its 6,200 members. . He said the tribe will have to cut workers’ hours or fire them if funding is not restored soon.
“Democrats and Republicans should not view this as a partisan issue when it comes to tribal relations or tribal affairs,” he said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”