Udall Secures Administration Commitment to Getting Victim Service Resources to Indian Country, Urges Support for Indian Water Rights Settlement Legislation
Presses for more Justice Department resources for Tribes to tackle MMIW crisis
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to convene a business meeting on several bills, including S. 279, the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act, and S. 1207, the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act of 2019, and an oversight hearing on the President’s FY 2020 budget proposal for the Department of Justice (DOJ). During the oversight hearing, Udall called attention to the need for greater resources to improve public safety in Indian Country, including tackling the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis.
During the business meeting, Udall expressed his strong support for committee passage of the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act, which Udall cosponsored.
Udall said, “S.279, the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act – this bipartisan bill would ensure all three types of Bureau of Indian Education schools have equal access to much needed federal tools and resources to recruit and retain teachers.”
Udall also expressed support for the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act, noting, “I support Indian water rights settlements, and the Navajo-Utah settlement is no exception. Authorizing Indian water rights settlements is simply good policy. These settlements enable Tribes to develop the infrastructure necessary to utilize their quantified water rights, allow communities to avoid time-consuming and expensive litigation, provide certainty by resolving long-standing claims so stakeholders can better plan for the future, and promote Tribal sovereignty and self-sufficiency.”
Udall continued, “Without providing the real dollars to implement these bills, we risk making yet another hollow promise to Indian Country. That is why I reintroduced S. 886, a bill to permanently extend the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund. Congress must act to provide a steady, reliable, predictable funding stream for Indian water rights settlements.”
All three bills on the business meeting agenda passed the committee by voice vote.
During the oversight hearing immediately following the business meeting, Udall urged the Department of Justice to provide Tribes with additional resources to tackle ongoing public safety issues, including the crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous women.
“Addressing violent crime and getting to the root causes of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis will take a strong partnership between Congress, the administration, and Tribes, particularly to ensure that Tribes have the jurisdictional and public safety resources they need to combat the crisis head-on,” Udall said.
Recently, Udall led a day of action in the Senate to highlight the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and to call for Senate action on several pieces of legislation he authored to improve safety for Native women.
Udall pressed Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matt Dummermuth on DOJ’s administration of one of the Department’s largest tribal grant programs, the Tribal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant program. A number of Tribes recently reached out to Udall to express concerns that DOJ altered the FY2019 grant application process for Tribal VOCA funding without adequate notice. This change left many Tribes unable to apply for the program and could result in the Department failing to distribute a significant portion of the funding resources Congress set aside for Indian Country.
“Congress directed DOJ to create the FY2018 and 2019 Tribal VOCA set-asides because we recognize the great need for direct funding of victim resources in Indian Country,” said Udall. “Mr. Dummermuth, I would encourage the DOJ to ensure the FY2019 funds are fully obligated and supporting victim services in Indian Country. If that means opening a second round of grants for this fiscal year, I hope you will take that message back to your colleagues and work on making it happen.”
In response, Dummermuth confirmed the Department will administer another round of standalone grants for the Tribal VOCA set-aside in FY 2019.
Udall fought to secure funding to begin the Tribal VOCA grant program in the FY2018 Omnibus. He is also a co-sponsor of S.211, the SURVIVE Act, which would authorize the Tribal VOCA grant program for 10 years and put more guardrails in place to ensure DOJ is administering the program consistently and with greater transparency.
According to DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Indians and Alaska Natives experience violent crimes at rates far greater than the general population. Tribal VOCA grant funding is drawn from the Crime Victim Fund, a budget neutral fund supported by fines and penalties collected from convicted federal offenders. Prior to enactment of the FY2018 Omnibus, only States and Territories received federal VOCA grants. As a result, Tribes had to apply for sub-grants through States and received an average of only 0.7% of federal victim service resources under VOCA.
Next Article Previous Article