WASHINGTON—During a meeting of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee on Tuesday, President Russell Begaye pushed for consistent and reliable funding for essential programs benefiting Native Americans.
Last year’s federal budget proposal cut the Community Health Representatives and Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country programs. Although funding was later restored, the proposed cuts shed light on a budgeting process that doesn’t prioritize health and welfare in Indian Country.
The Navajo Nation also faces regular threats to other essential programs, including Head Start and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. In his remarks Tuesday, President Begaye called for permanent solutions.
“We need permanent funding for these programs,” he said. “We need assurance that Indian health care will receive the attention it deserves.”
During the meeting, designed to engage federal officials and elected tribal leaders in government-to-government discussions, President Begaye pressed for a federal budget that doesn’t require tribes to fight for funding. He recommended that the HHS establish a task force with “robust tribal consultation” to identify better ways to maintain funds for tribal programs.
“The budget process now is dysfunctional,” he said. “We have to fight and lobby for our priorities to be funded over the priorities of other stakeholders. Why should we have to fight for these critical programs?”
President Begaye also called for a realignment of federal funding processes and tribal programs to eliminate funding gaps. Because tribal health and education programs often operate on schedules that are not aligned with the federal fiscal year, gaps in funding occur, leading to disruptions in services.
“The budgeting process needs to be decentralized,” he said. “We need to avoid any of these budget surprises we have every year and find ways to identify regional priorities instead of national priorities.”