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Federal budget delays can create funding uncertainty for Native health program

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The U.S. Capitol

The Indian Health Service requires its budget to be approved by Congress every year. Short-term funding and government shutdowns can throw that into chaos. Win McNamee/Getty Images

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The House approved a $1.5 trillion spending measure late Wednesday to fund the U.S. government and prevent potential shutdown. It still needs to pass on the Senate, and the government is continuing to operate on stopgap funding. ​ 

Leaders of tribal nations are watching all of this closely — as short-term funding creates uncertainty for many vital programs that serve Native people.  

Dee Sabattus, who served as health director for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township during the last government shutdown, had to reduce care services and staffing during that time.

Sabbatus, who now works with United South and Eastern Tribes, said that’s because the Indian Health Service, which serves 2.5 million Native people, has to have its budgets approved by Congress every year.

Liz Malerba with United South and Eastern Tribes said the agency should get advance appropriations, which provide a bridge for vital programs between budgets.

“It would provide a level of certainty and stability in funding that we do not have yet,” she said.

Despite a request from President Joe Biden, advance funding for the IHS didn’t make it into the spending package Congress is expected to vote on soon.

“This was really disappointing and really it remains unclear what the sticking point is,” said Meredith Raimondi with the National Council of Urban Indian Health. Raimondi said the IHS budget should be insulated from political impasses.

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