Principal Chief Bill John Baker
Published May 16, 2017
WASHINGTON – Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivered testimony Tuesday before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. Chief Baker was part of a tribal leaders’ panel invited to deliver comments on funding for American Indian/Alaska Native programs. Chief Baker addressed the effect of potential budget cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Interior. He also called for a Bureau of Indian Education program equivalent to the Indian Health Service Joint Venture Construction Program.
Chief Baker’s full testimony is as follows:
I am Bill John Baker, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, our country’s largest Native American tribe. I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you this morning.
We are more than 350,000 tribal citizens and have long been a driving force of the economy in our state. We employ over 11,000 people and support 18,000 jobs. Our economic impact on northeast Oklahoma for 2016 alone exceeded $2 billion. We are a stabilizing force in our region.
Early this year, we broke ground on a $200 million, 470,000-square-foot health center. In 2019, this facility will be the largest health center in Indian Country. I want to thank the subcommittee for the role it played in this effort.
The Cherokee Nation is making a difference for our citizens and for Oklahoma, and this is why the proposed funding cuts in the president’s FY18 budget concern me. The blueprint calls for an 18 percent cut to the Department of Health and Human Services. Such drastic cuts to IHS would have a lasting impact on our health care system. Jobs would be lost. Patient wait time would increase. We estimate that nearly 92,000 patients would go unseen, putting their health and lives at risk.
The blueprint also calls for a 12 percent cut to the Department of the Interior. This cut to Interior would be unfair to Cherokee students. At least 2,000 would go unserved. The drama, band, and robotics programs at the BIE (Bureau of Indian Education) school we operate would be eliminated. It would lead to the closure of daycare centers, reduced staff and hours at nutrition sites, and the number of citizens that we serve. As you work through the appropriations process, I urge you to reject any cut to IHS, BIA, BIE and the other tribal accounts.
I applaud the subcommittee for highlighting BIE school construction and repair in recent years. Last year, I called for the establishment of a BIE program equivalent to the IHS Joint Venture Program. I repeat that request today. Sequoyah High School requires immediate assistance. Because of the great cost to replace these aging facilities, it is unlikely we will receive BIE funding. We need a solution. If given the opportunity to assume school construction and repairs in exchange for fixed operations and maintenance costs, we could alleviate some of the massive backlog. We must embrace innovative solutions for school construction.
I’d also like to update you on an issue I raised two years ago. We continue to have a stalemate with Interior and the Interior Business Center over their shift in policy regarding costs related to tribal enrollment activities in calculating our indirect cost rate. This issue is causing a serious delay in determining our indirect cost rate for FY17. The House Appropriations Committee included language on this matter in FY16. That language directed Interior to report to the subcommittee on its justification for this change and how it would apply to tribal enrollment activities. Your directive has been ignored. Our discussions are moving in the wrong direction. Verifying tribal citizenship and preventing fraud are crucial to eligibility for many of the federal programs we administer. For decades, these costs have been allowed. We ask for your assistance to ensure those long-lasting policies, which properly allowed such costs, remain in effect.
Finally, we continue to support full funding of IHS and BIA contract support costs and thank the subcommittee for its work to fully fund contract support costs without jeopardizing program funding. Failure to fully fund these costs impedes our ability to meet the needs of Cherokees. We respectfully urge the subcommittee to continue employing a separate and indefinite appropriation.
Thank you for granting me this opportunity today.