Fall­out from shut­down hurt­ing Na­tive Amer­i­cans

Daily Observer (Jamaica) - - NEWS -

FLAGSTAFF, Ari­zona (AP) — Fall­out from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down is hurt­ing Na­tive Amer­i­cans as dwin­dling funds ham­per ac­cess to health care and other ser­vices. The pain is es­pe­cially deep in tribal com­mu­ni­ties with high rates of poverty and un­em­ploy­ment, where one per­son of­ten sup­ports an ex­tended fam­ily.

The ef­fects were be­ing felt far and wide.

In New Mex­ico, a lone po­lice of­fi­cer pa­trolled a Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tion larger in size than Hous­ton on a shift that nor­mally has three peo­ple, re­spond­ing to mul­ti­ple car wrecks dur­ing a snow storm, emer­gency calls and re­quests for wel­fare checks.

Else­where, fed­er­ally funded road main­te­nance pro­grams are op­er­at­ing with skele­ton crews and strug­gling to keep roads clear on re­mote reser­va­tions. Tribal mem­bers said they can’t get re­fer­rals for spe­cialty care from the In­dian Health Ser­vice (IHS) if their con­di­tions aren’t life-threat­en­ing.

Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes rely heav­ily on fund­ing guar­an­teed by treaties with the US, acts of Con­gress and other agree­ments for pub­lic safety, so­cial ser­vices, ed­u­ca­tion and health care for their mem­bers. Be­cause of the shut­down, tribal of­fi­cials say some pro­grams are on the brink of col­lapse and oth­ers are sur­viv­ing with tribes fill­ing fund­ing gaps.

About 9,000 In­dian Health Ser­vice em­ploy­ees, or 60 per cent, are work­ing with­out pay and 35 per cent are work­ing with fund­ing streams not af­fected by the shut­down, ac­cord­ing to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices depart­ment’s shut­down plan. That in­cludes staff pro­vid­ing di­rect care to pa­tients. The agency de­liv­ers health care to about 2.2 mil­lion Na­tive Amer­i­cans and Alaska Na­tives.

The agency gets money from the In­te­rior Depart­ment, whose bud­get is snared by the shut­down. For many tribal mem­bers, IHS is the only op­tion for health care un­less they want to pay out of pocket or have other in­sur­ance. Ben­e­fits un­der pro­grammes like So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and Med­i­caid are un­af­fected by the par­tial Gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Much ad­min­is­tra­tive work at IHS has come to a halt, and while most of it doesn’t have an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on health care de­liv­ery, some pa­tients were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­lays.

Clara Pratte’s 68-year-old mother had surgery to clear up vi­sion in one of her eyes ear­lier this month, but the Navajo woman wasn’t able to get a re­fer­ral from IHS for a fol­low-up ap­point­ment after pres­sure built up in her eye.

“We’re manag­ing, but it’s a mat­ter of when the Gov­ern­ment might open again to have it eval­u­ated by a spe­cial­ist,” Pratte said.

In Wash­ing­ton state, the Seat­tle In­dian Health Board plans to cut ser­vices if the fed­eral shut­down con­tin­ues more than a week or two. En­dan­gered pro­grammes in­clude an in-pa­tient treat­ment cen­ter for chem­i­cal de­pen­dency and a tra­di­tional medicine pro­gram that in­cor­po­rates a sweat lodge, sto­ry­telling and drum­ming to help peo­ple in re­cov­ery, gov­ern­ment af­fairs of­fi­cer Aren Sparck said.

About one-fourth of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fund­ing comes from IHS, he said.

IHS spokesman Joshua Bar­nett said tribal health pro­grammes and ones in ur­ban ar­eas can con­tinue op­er­at­ing, but the agency can­not fund them dur­ing the shut­down.

Lead­ers of Na­tive Amer­i­can or­gan­i­sa­tions wrote to Con­gress on Thurs­day de­scrib­ing the im­pact the shut­down is hav­ing on their com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing on ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing pro­grammes, child wel­fare and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Michelle Be­gay was fur­loughed in late De­cem­ber from her ad­min­is­tra­tive job with IHS and said she can­not seek work in the same field un­der the agency’s reg­u­la­tions.

She doesn’t know how she will pay for her daugh­ter’s park­ing pass for col­lege or a plane ticket to Chicago to see her son grad­u­ate from a naval academy next month with­out dip­ping into her sav­ings. If she does, she risks not be­ing able to cover her house pay­ment and util­i­ties be­yond Jan­uary.

Be­gay also had ap­plied for health in­sur­ance through her em­ployer be­fore the new year to avoid high de­ductibles on her hus­band’s plan, but the pa­per­work didn’t get pro­cessed be­cause of the shut­down. She re­cently paid $600 to be seen for bron­chi­tis but couldn’t cover the costs when she was hit with a sec­ond bout. She went to an IHS clinic after call­ing for three days to get an ap­point­ment.

“I was very for­tu­nate, my sit­u­a­tion was treat­able,” she said. “My lung didn’t col­lapse, that’s what they were re­ally con­cerned about. But, still, I had to wait two, al­most three days to be seen.”

An­other fed­eral agency serv­ing Na­tive Amer­i­cans, the US Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs, was ex­pected to fur­lough nearly 2,300 of its roughly 4,060 work­ers, ac­cord­ing to its con­tin­gency plan. An agency spokes­woman didn’t re­spond to mes­sages left by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Mean­while, tribal com­mu­ni­ties were try­ing to help fur­loughed work­ers.

The Mescalero Apache in south-cen­tral New Mex­ico was of­fer­ing peo­ple jobs at its casino and ski lodge. The Navajo Na­tion’s power com­pany says it will work with any fur­loughed em­ploy­ees strug­gling to pay their bills.

With the shut­down now en­ter­ing its third week, the strain on the tribes was ex­pected to in­crease.

Fall­out from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down is hurt­ing hun­dreds of Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes and en­ti­ties that serve them. The pain is es­pe­cially deep in tribal com­mu­ni­ties with high rates of poverty and un­em­ploy­ment, and where one per­son of­ten sup­ports an ex­tended fam­ily.

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