Dec. 19, 2005 – More than three months after first warning the Navajo Nation of a potential budget shortfall, the Bureau of Indian Affairs last week said it does not have enough money to cover supplemental welfare assistance requests for members of the Nation. The news came about even as the BIA failed to make a separate $1.5 million payment to the Navajo Division of Social Services, forcing the delay of December public-assistance payments to eligible Navajo members, reported the Daily Times of Farmington, New Mexico.
The BIA budget shortfall comes at a particularly bad time for members of the Navajo Nation. In a September message to the Navajo Nation Council, President Joe Shirley Jr. noted that the Nationâ€™s funds available for the 2006 fiscal year were already projected to be less than in 2005.
According to an analysis of the 2000 Census conducted by CivilRights.org, a coalition of 180 national civil rights advocacy groups, more than a quarter of the nationâ€™s approximately 2.5 million indigenous peoples live in poverty, topping all other groups.
Anticipating the need for supplemental welfare assistance, Shirley asked the BIA to release money designated for the 2006 fiscal year to cover emergency payments earlier this year. Terming the use "improper" and warning that it would likely lead to future budget shortfalls, the BIA denied the request, the Daily News said.
The supplemental money would go for a range of programs, including education and adult and child care programs. The Nation expects to discuss the issue at an emergency meeting today in Window Rock, Arizona, the Daily News reported.
Due to a nearly ten-year-old lawsuit brought against the Department of the Interior by a member of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe, the BIA no longer posts information or updates on Native American finances handled by the federal government on its website. Legislative attempts to deal with the suit Cobell v Norton last week failed to move either side toward compromise, Indian Country Today reported Friday.
As reported previously by The NewStandard, since the suit first was filed, District Court Judge Richard Lambeth has levied $600,000 in fines against the Interior Department and found two government officials in contempt for misleading the court and failing to provide requested documents. The Interior Department offered a lump-sum settlement of $27.5 billion to the plaintiffs earlier this year, but the settlement was rejected due to Native American estimates that the interest that should have accrued over the lifetime of the Trust make it worth over $170 billion.