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Federal government shutdown affects Colville tribes and local economy


The ongoing shutdown of the federal government has many implications, including a direct loss of $1.5 million per week for the Colville Confederated Tribes, a letter from the tribes to members of Congress said last week.

The Jan. 3 letter from Colville Business Council Chairman Rodney Cawston was addressed to Raul Grijalva, chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives; Rob Bishop, ranking member on the same committee; John Hoeven, chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs in the U.S. Senate; and Tom Udall, vice chairman on that committee.

“The negative effects [of the shutdown] on the Colville Tribes and its members are becoming clear and taking a toll,” Cawston writes in the letter.

The federal government shutdown, which started Dec. 21, 2018, is the fourth shutdown since 2013, and stems from a dispute concerning funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

Cawston pointed out that during shutdowns Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) both withhold funds from the tribes that go to contractors for various tribal programs.

“The Colville Tribes respectfully request that your committees support legislation that would allow IHS and BIA activities to continue uninterrupted should a future government shutdown occur,” his letter says.

“The Colville Tribes’ government employs almost 1,400 employees,” Cawston explained, getting into numbers. “Our fiscal year 2019 budgets include over $60 million in federal funding. This amount does not include the additional $13 million the Colville Tribes collects in direct and indirect contract support costs. Overall, federal funding and contract support costs account for more than 50 percent of the total $153 million tribal budget. If the shutdown continues, the direct loss for the Colville Tribes will be over $1.5 million per week. Those losses include salaries which support tribal families and services to the membership and local communities. … Hardworking men and women on our reservation will be thrown out of work, and their families will suffer.”

Cawston noted the hit to the tribes’ timber industry, in particular. With 922,000 acres of timber land, “the timber industry here is a mainstay of our economy,” Cawston said, “creating hundreds of jobs for Tribal member logging contractors, log truck drivers and compliance and forest development contractors. We estimate that the Colville Tribes could lose approximately $400,000 every week that the shutdown continues, with a total economic impact to the Tribes and surrounding communities of approximately $1.2 million per week.”

The Bureau of Indian Education will continue to fund the Paschal Sherman Indian School through the school year, according to CCT Public Affairs Officer Meghan Francis.

Francis also said that the CCT will be able to sustain funding for their programs through March 31, should the shutdown continue.

The $60 million in federal dollars in the tribes’ budget funds 80 percent of its Natural Resources division, as well as helping to fund programs such as Head Start, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Employment & Training, Higher Education, and Vocational Rehabilitation programs.

In a Jan. 4 press conference, President Trump said that the shutdown could last months or even years.

The Washington Post reported some 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or are working without pay due to the shutdown.

A statement from IHS explains that health care services are still available, but that administrative activities are impacted from the lack of funding.

No one answered the phone at the Colville Indian Agency BIA office on Tuesday, which marks the 17th day of the shutdown.

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