WASHINGTON - Acoma Pueblo Gov. Chandler Sanchez of New Mexico moved from meeting to meeting in the Hart and Russell Senate office buildings on Thursday, joining dozens of other tribal leaders who were lobbying for economic stimulus plan projects in their communities.
"Everybody's talking about the big stimulus package," Chandler said. "Who isn't? Everybody who is out here in Washington is talking about that. We have a lot of projects we're working on and a lot of concerns we have back home. By coming to Washington, we actually get to sit down with senators and congressmen to voice what our people are voicing back home."
The Acoma tribal government and tribes everywhere are wondering how the federal government will boost the economy, not only nationally but on tribal lands.
When President Barack Obama signs a national stimulus bill, tribes expect it to address a $50 billion backlog of construction projects for Indian Country. The backlog includes $3 billion for health care facilities, $8 billion for jails - an estimated 90 percent of reservation jails need to be replaced - and $20 billion in unmet transportation needs.
To that end, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, organized a group of 15 Senate colleagues to support and craft legislation calling for $3.58 billion for tribal communities to be included in the national economic stimulus bill.
The majority of the money, some $2.8 billion, would be used immediately for construction projects in tribal communities.
"It would be funding in support of putting people to work," said Dorgan during a phone interview. "Roads are in disrepair, schools are in disrepair. We want funding to meet some of the needs of Indian governments. There is a backlog. When tribes see the stimulus plan put together, they know their needs are at the top of the list. I remain hopeful we will get funding for tribal governments."
The jobs bill would create jobs and promote economic recovery in Native regions of the country, where unemployment rates can reach 80 percent. Under the stimulus recovery program, tribes that receive money are expected to get the projects under way in 60 to 90 days and complete them within two years. Additionally, $80 million in the plan would be used for business development, $600 million for water projects, $4 million for energy development and $50 million to address the "fractionation" problems associated with Indian lands.
The majority of the $3.5 billion economic stimulus bill funds are being directed toward the immediate construction of health care buildings, jails, roads, schools and housing projects.
"There's a lot of needs in Indian Country and a lot of shovel-ready projects, whether you're talking about water or housing or health care, just the main three. There are dollars that can be spent and get a big bang for the buck and provide some necess-ary infrastructure," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
The House, meanwhile, passed an economic stimulus plan that approved more than $1.5 billion for Indian programs.
The Senate expects
to complete its national stimulus plan by mid-February.