Hoopa Valley Tribe Uses Emergency Supplies to Weather Federal Shutdown
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
The Hoopa Valley Tribe was forced to dip into its cache of emergency supplies because of the U.S. federal government shutdown which lasted for 17 days in October.
The Tribe maintains an emergency stockpile of food designed to feed everyone in the Hoopa Valley for a few weeks in case an earthquake, flood, or other disaster cuts the area off from regular food deliveries.
Elders still remember the 1955 and 1964 floods, which destroyed bridges and covered large stretches of Highway 96 with water. Residents were on their own for several days during those disasters, before emergency crews could resupply the area by air.
Local emergency services have plans to deal with many different disaster scenarios – like earthquakes, wild fires, tsunamis, or dam failures – but it was an intentional man-made disaster that threatened services for communities and tribes across the country in October.
Republican members of Congress refused to allow a vote on funding government services for the new fiscal year which started on October 1, as part of a larger attempt to roll back the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as “Obamacare.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who was the public face of the shutdown effort, originally declared, “I will not vote for any continuing resolution that funds even a single penny of Obamacare.”
The U.S. government was left without funding, and hundreds of “non-essential” government services were forced to close, and tens of thousands of federal employees were placed on unpaid leave.
Lawrence Taylor, office manager at Food Distribution in Hoopa, spoke with the TRT during the shutdown. “The USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] froze all of our accounts due to the shutdown, so we can’t order new food.”
“But we do have a supply of everything in case a bridge went out or any other type of disaster happened in the area,” Taylor said. “That’s what we’re operating off of now.”
The Food Distribution program is an alternative to CalFresh, also known as food stamps. The local program provides food directly to around 310 families.
When federal funds were frozen, the Tribe stepped in to cover salaries for the employees during the shutdown.
Keith Hostler, the director of Food Distribution, said, “The Tribe is paying for it all because they want to make sure everyone is fed. So we made a contingency plan to stay open until the 25th.”
The federal shutdown ended on October 17, when Senate leaders agreed on a plan to extend the U.S. federal budget through the middle of January 2014.
Hoopa Tribal Councilmember Shane McCullough said, “There would have been programs affected if the shutdown had continued.”
Furloughs, days off without pay, had been planned for each Friday through the end of October, and there were contingency plans to start shutting down unfunded departments completely if the shutdown had gone into November.
“Tomorrow was supposed to be our first furlough day,” Hoopa Tribal Councilmember Wendy “Poppy” George said that evening, “but now we don’t have to do that.”
Many other tribes weren’t as fortunate.
The Yurok Tribe placed 20 percent (60 out of 300) of their tribal workforce on furlough starting Monday, October 7, and warned that there would be more drastic cuts if the shutdown lasted more than a few weeks longer.
Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke said at the time, “This situation is no joke. Soon, people aren’t going to be able to feed their families. They could lose their homes.”
In other parts of the country, where many tribes receive services directly from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the federal shutdown had immediate and devastating effects.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) said, “Most of the five tribes in North Dakota are direct service tribes, which means BIA itself performs critical functions to help Native-American families. With the shutdown, there are few or no BIA employees in each reservation to carry out this very important work.”
The BIA furloughed 2,500 out of its approximately 4,100 workers. Assistance checks stopped coming, heating fuel deliveries were halted, and law enforcement was essentially shutdown across hundreds of thousands of acres of the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota.
“They are patrolling 252,000 acres with one officer,” Heitkamp said.
Bryan Brewster, president of the Oglala Sioux, told the Rapid City Journal, “It is unthinkable to have to close programs, stop services and turn people out of their jobs. In an area with 80 percent unemployment, furloughs are a humanitarian disaster.”
The man-made humanitarian disaster was made worse by a more natural disaster; over 100,000 cattle were reportedly killed when a freak snowstorm sent blinding snow and 70 mile per hour winds across South Dakota.
Because of manpower shortages caused by the furloughs, officials on the Pine Ridge Reservation still aren’t sure how many cattle died there. Even if they’d known, it was impossible to report their losses to the U.S. Department of Agriculture or request emergency aid because of the shutdown.
Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), said, “You’re already looking at a good number of tribes who are considered the poorest of our nation’s people. When you are dealing with cutting off food supply programs and even nominal payments to tribal members, it creates a dangerous impact immediately.”
The deal reached in Congress to extend the U.S. federal budget ends in mid-January 2014, and the deal’s new U.S. debt ceiling will be reached in early February 2014.
With no sign that the Republicans have given up on their quest to stop Obamacare, tribes and other communities across the country could be faced with another shutdown in just a few months.
Hoopa Tribal Vice Chairman Ryan Jackson said, “Hoopa came through this very well, but if a shutdown were to continue for a long period of time, we’d be in a position that’s not very comfortable.”