Chair McCollum Statement at American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Day
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's first day of public witness hearings on tribal programs:
Good morning, and welcome to the first day of the public witness hearings on tribal programs under the jurisdiction of the Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee.
I am pleased to welcome back my Native brothers and sisters to discuss the needs and challenges facing Indian Country. For the second year, in the hopes of having a more in depth discussion of the issues Native Americans are experiencing, we have organized witnesses according to the following topics: health care; land, trust, and natural resource management, including climate change; public safety and justice; education; and tribal government and human services.
Today we will begin by hearing from witnesses on the health care needs and challenges before transitioning to issues related to climate change and land, trust, and natural resources. The federal government entered into treaties guaranteeing health care to Native Americans.
A few months ago, I travelled to South Dakota and saw firsthand how centuries later the government is still not meeting its responsibilities. The need for investment in health care and related facilities is real and we will continue to do the best we can with the allocation we are given. Last year, Congress provided a $241 million increase to the Indian Health Service. This 4 percent increase included additional funds to address 105(l) lease costs.
As part of the bill, we directed IHS, BIA and OMB to consider whether these costs should be funded as an indefinite appropriation. I was pleased to see the President recognized the importance of this issue and included such a proposal in his FY21 budget request.
In addition, last summer I had the opportunity to visit tribes in Minnesota, and Mr. Joyce and I travelled to Washington state to visit tribes in Mr. Kilmer’s district. We met with tribal leaders and learned more about climate change impacts on the health, safety and cultural wellbeing of Native Americans as well as some of the issues surrounding land and natural resources management. Future generations deserve clean air and drinkable water. We must give these issues our fullest attention now.
For Fiscal Year 2020, Congress included additional funds for BIA Natural Resources Management programs, including an increased funding for Tribal Climate Resilience, Endangered Species, and water resources. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the President’s budget request released yesterday once again ignores climate change. No one is immune from climate change, especially not Native Americans who are at the forefront of experiencing the effects of increasing temperatures and rising waters.
Your written testimony describes in very real detail the impacts climate change is having on Native America – melting permafrost in Alaska, the loss of traditional foods, and unprecedented flooding happening right now in Washington and Oregon.
Yet the President looks the other way.
Luckily, the President only proposes, Congress disposes. At the beginning of this Congress, I introduced H.R. 1128, a bill to authorize advance appropriations of tribal funds. As we figure out how the fully meet the needs of Native America, I will continue to work towards passage of this vital legislation. Most recently I wrote a letter to the Budget Committee requesting that hearings be held on the bill.
I am eager to learn more about your priorities, and I look forward to our discussions on these issues because I believe it will help to inform us as we begin to develop the 2021 appropriations bill.