MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 10, 2013

Tribe prepares for cuts in US funding

Some programs canceled in face of sequester

— Cherokee Nation officials recently announced immediate changes to protect funding after Congress’ sequestration promised to cut millions of dollars to the tribe.

Julie Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the tribe, said officials were still in the planning stage for budget cuts, but they have decided to make some immediate changes in anticipation.

“Treasurer Lacey Horn instructed tribal programs to research cost-saving measures,” a CN media release states. “Contingency plans include a hiring freeze on all nonessential new hires and a moratorium on most travel and training.”

Because of the travel moratorium, community meetings planned to take place this month around the Cherokee Nation have been canceled, the tribe announced.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a media release that careful planning and booming business will help the tribe weather any budget cuts caused by Congress’ failure to come to a budget agreement.

Although the Cherokee Nation’s budget for services and programs is more than $600 million, Cherokee Nation Businesses also posts annual revenues in excess of $600 million, according to the media release.

“We have recently experienced record growth and expansion with our business enterprises. With that growth comes the responsibility to use our profits in ways that most benefit the Cherokee people,” Baker said. “Thankfully, our business success allows us to be less dependent on federal funding and helps us get through uncertain times.”

The Cherokee Nation stands to see a 5.3 percent cut across the board, according to its media release.

Those cuts include:

• More than $400,000 from the tribe’s food distribution program.

• Nearly $430,000 from the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides nutritious foods to pregnant women and children.

• Nearly $8 million in Indian Health Services.

• About $415,000 from the Cherokee Nation Diabetes Prevention Program.

• Unspecified amounts from Head Start, housing rehabilitation and other programs.

However, Baker said the tribe will work diligently to keep jobs and services.

“As the sequestration process begins, we find ourselves in a strong position to deal with its potential consequences. We will preserve jobs and services to the greatest extent possible,” Baker said in the release. “However, it’s unfortunate that tribal programs are being included in the sequestration process, as those programs are part of the U.S. government’s trust responsibility. These are responsibilities negotiated and guaranteed through signed treaties to be honored forever.”

Hubbard said the tribe’s practice of “forward funding” is also a benefit in persevering through budget cuts.

“The vast majority of the programs are forward funded, however, meaning much of the money has already been received by the Cherokee Nation,” she said. “Forward funding will greatly diminish the effect on the tribe.”

Hubbard said the tribe has anticipated sequestration for months, prompting the treasurer’s instructions to tribal programs to research cost-saving measures.

Horn said: “While many people said that sequestration would not happen, we always knew it was possible. Our foresight and preplanning has paid off, and we are ready.”

Hubbard said that recently announced projects, such as a new $50 million hospital, have not yet been affected.

“Everyone is still in the planning stage on how to handle the budget cuts,” she said.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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