Shutdown Creeps Down to Tribal Governments
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
(Editor’s Note: The federal government shutdown was lifted shortly after this article was published in the print edition of the Two Rivers Tribune)
The partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government, now entering its third week, is affecting vital services for citizens across the country. Many state, local, and tribal governments are feeling the financial strain.
The Yurok Tribe placed 20 percent of their tribal workforce on unpaid leave (called furloughs) on Monday, October 7, and warned that if the shutdown lasted more than two weeks, there would be drastic cuts.
Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke said, “This situation is no joke. Soon, people aren’t going to be able to feed their families. They could lose their homes.”
The federal government shutdown began on Tuesday, October 1, after the Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who currently hold a majority of the seats, refused to approve a budget for the new fiscal year without “concessions” from President Barrack Obama on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
The PPACA, also known as “Obamacare”, was signed into law on March 23, 2010, and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012.
The health care law is strongly opposed by Republican members of Congress, who have attempted to repeal it over 40 times.
Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said, “When the government controls everybody’s health care, pays for everybody’s health care, it is the government controlling everything. How much more socialist can you get?”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said, “I will not vote for any continuing resolution that funds even a single penny of Obamacare.”
Without a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government for the new fiscal year that started on October 1, hundreds of “non-essential” government services were forced to close, and tens of thousands of federal employees were placed on unpaid leave.
O’Rourke said, “I believe that Congress needs to forget about their politics and put the people first. They need to pass a budget today.”
Local tribal governments receive a large part of their funding from the U.S. federal government because of treaty obligations, and some tribal programs rely almost entirely on those federal dollars to operate.
The Yurok Tribe employs more than 300 people and the Hoopa Valley Tribe employs more than 360; local tribes, along with the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District are among the largest employers in the area.
Ryan Jackson, vice chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said, “I think we have some leeway for a few weeks, but once we get closer to three weeks to a month, we’ll have the potential for widespread layoffs.”
The Hoopa Valley Tribe announced unpaid days off (furloughs) on Friday, October 18 and 25, for all non-enterprise tribal employees.
Tribal Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten said, “If this isn’t resolved soon – and it goes on like the 21-day shutdown during the Clinton Administration – the furloughs could be every day in November.”
Lisa Land, controller and acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the Hoopa Tribe, said that student scholarships were already frozen and that senior payments and trust funds were cut off because there was no one at U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to process them.
Even the Tribe’s own money, in BIA-managed trust accounts, is locked-up during the shutdown.
Vigil-Masten said, “This is not our fault. This is from the federal government. We’re going to stay positive and optimistic that they will come to an agreement.”