November 13, 2012

Indian programs = "welfare"?

Navajo Nation President Shelly objects to congressional report calling Indian programs 'welfare'

Indian Health Service, Indian Education, and Indian Human Services programs cited as serving poorer populationsIn a letter dated Oct. 23 to Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly strongly objected to the characterization in an Oct. 16 Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report of various federal Indian programs as welfare.

In objecting to the inclusion of Indian programs within the discretionary category of welfare spending, President Shelly drew attention to the federal obligation that the U.S. has undertaken to "provide certain services to our citizens and to support Navajo self-determination" through various treaties and the trust responsibility.

Ranking Member Sessions and the minority staff of the Senate Budget Committee requested a CRS report providing an "overview of cumulative means-tested federal welfare spending." The report identified $1.03 trillion in spending on 83 allegedly overlapping federal welfare programs.

While the report was intended to provide an overview of federal welfare spending, the report itself notes that it included "[a] few programs without an explicit low-income provision" either because "their target population is disproportionately poor or their purpose clearly indicates a presumption that participants will be low-income."

Among the programs included because their target population is disproportionately poor are Indian Health Service, Indian Education, and Indian Human Services. Indian Housing Block Grants are also included in the report and other programs important for Indian country may also be implicated.

President Shelly criticized the characterization of Indian programs as 'welfare' simply because the programs serve what is only incidentally a disproportionately poor population.

"Federal transportation programs could also be labeled 'welfare' if their funds happened to go to states with high unemployment," Shelley said.
Comment:  Someone may have classified the Indian programs as "welfare" unintentionally, but it's still stereotypical. As people have noted many times, these programs are treaty payments for land, not welfare benefits for the poor.

For more on the subject, see Mine CEO:  Natives Have "Hand Out" and Fox Special on Indian "Freeloaders."

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