Daines Fights for Tribal Needs at Three Senate Hearings

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today fought for Montana’s tribes, pressing Obama administration witnesses on the responsible stewardship of federal funds to benefit tribal housing, health services and public safety.

During three different Senate Committee hearings today, Daines called on witnesses to ensure that federal dollars intended for Montana’s tribes are being properly allocated to help tribal members on Montana’s reservations, rather than being misused or creating bureaucratic waste. Daines sought to rein in exorbitant administrative costs at Indian Health Service (IHS), ensure efficient allocation of tribal housing resources and address the communications challenges facing first responders on reservations and rural communities.

U.S. Indian Health Service Fiscal-Year 2016 Budget Request:

After testifying before Daines earlier this month, Daines continued to press IHS Director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux about administration costs and measuring outcomes at IHS, rather than just throwing more money at a system that is failing to meet the basic needs of Montana’s tribes. Daines called on Roubideaux to work more closely with Montana tribes to ensure federal monies are spent more directly on tribal health care services, rather than unnecessary federal bureaucracy.

“Dr. Roubideaux, two weeks ago when you testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, we talked about administrative costs at IHS.  I know that in FY13, $6.5 million was spent on administrative costs at our Billings Area Office, out of $18.5 million spent overall in the Billings Area IHS as a whole. While I understand it’s necessary to have some admin costs in any organization, is this money being effectively spent? Because that’s about 35 percent of the total spending there,” Daines stated. “Do you have a goal to try and continue to reduce your admin costs as a percentage of overall spending? Is that something you’ve set targets for, to see reductions in that number?”

“I probably hear more complaints about IHS than anything else I hear out in Indian country. The challenges are enormous and the problem is made worse by these huge distances to get to both IHS and non-IHS facilities,” Daines continued. “What are we doing to measure outcomes at IHS? I heard all about increased spending, more money, but what are we doing right now and how are we measuring outcomes in terms of improving health in Indian country?”

Video of Senator Daines’ remarks at today’s Indian Health Service hearing is available here.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fiscal-Year 2016 Budget Request:

During today’s hearing, Daines highlighted the severe difficulties Native American tribes face when dealing with federal housing services due to lack of housing funds accessible to them. Daines highlighted the disproportionate number of Native Americans that are homeless compared to the total United States population, underscoring the importance of ensuring that tribal members most in need are recipients of resources allocated for this purpose.  

“In my home state of Montana, tribal communities are some of the most impoverished communities and have tremendous housing needs,” Daines stated. “These communities are some of the most impoverished in the country and need accessibility to HUD’s existing programs. One constituent of mine – Vice Chairman Dana Wilson of the Crow Tribe in Montana – said this: ‘Homelessness is invisible, because the Crow people always take care of each other. It’s not uncommon to see 10 to 20 people living in the same home.’ Given the nature of homelessness, especially among veterans, in Indian country, there’s severe doubt on whether HUD has properly allocated funds towards homelessness in Tribal lands. Year after year, folks in Indian country have voiced their difficulties to me and my staff, but we’ve had little response from HUD.”

Video of Senator Daines’ remarks at today’s HUD Appropriations hearing is available here.

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Hearing on Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network:

In today’s hearing, Daines called on Obama administration witnesses to prioritize rural and tribal first responder services and technology. Daines stressed his concerns that FirstNet, the first nationwide, high-speed network dedicated to public safety, should be prioritized in rural and tribal communities, where current communications networks are not as advanced. 

“FirstNet plans to deploy on top of existing private infrastructure first—and that makes perfect logic and sense to me, except for the fact that states like Montana have limited 4G LTE coverage and in fact, in tribal lands it’s virtually nonexistent,” Daines stated. “What sort of contingency plan do we have for these types of areas? For example the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, which doesn’t even have 3G service, let alone 4G LTE?”

Video of Senator Daines’ remarks at today’s Commerce hearing on FirstNet is available here.