Government shutdown hurting tribes as workers go unpaid

Courtesy of Indian Health Service  - Indian Health Service employees of the Pawnee Indian Health Clinic are now working without pay as the federal government shutdown continues. The clinic is gathering supplies like non-perishable food, laundry and personal supplies and diapers for its federally-funded workers, who missed their fist paycheck on Friday. The Pawnee Nation has also launched a GoFundMe account to buy groceries for the families of all federal employees living in the Pawnee area who are working without pay. 

PAWNEE – The impact of the federal government’s shutdown, which entered its 21st day on Saturday and is affecting an estimated 800,000 workers, is being felt locally by the people who provide services to Native American tribal members. Many of the affected workers have relationships with the tribes through Indian Health Service, which provides federal health services to Native Americans and Alaskan Natives and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, located in Pawnee, established a GoFundMe account on Friday to raise $10,000 that will be used to buy groceries for the families of federal employees in the Pawnee area who are working without pay, Pawnee Nation Communications Manager Jeana Francis said.

She emphasized that the tribe's effort is meant to help the families of all affected federal employees, Native and non-Native, living near the Pawnee Nation, not just those who work in tribal programs or provide services to tribal members.

“We can only imagine the stress this shutdown has been on the federal employees and expected to work for no pay 'til the government reopens,” Pawnee Nation President Bruce Pratt said in a release announcing the effort. “This unfortunate situation is having an adverse impact across the country and this effort is our small way to assist those families of federal employees who serve in the Pawnee Nation.”

Employees of the Pawnee Nation, including the Information Technology, Communications, Finance and Executive offices will assist in the effort and members of the Pawnee Nation Employee Club will provide logistical support and assemble the grocery baskets, according to Pawnee Nation Executive Director Jim Gray. The Pawnee Nation’s GoFundMe account can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/aid-for-our-federal-families.

Other efforts are underway to help federal workers. About 170 federal employees are now working without pay at IHS health facilities in Pawnee, Pawnee Nation Tribal Council, member Sammye Kemble shared in a Facebook post she made Wednesday.

“This is payday week but no one will be paid and their own federal credit union is also shut down,” Kemble wrote.

She said the Pawnee Indian Health Center, 1201 Heritage Circle, Pawnee, is setting up a food pantry to gather non-perishable food items and other essentials like laundry, bathroom and hygiene products and diapers. Donations can be dropped off in the reception area by the main entrance.

If the shutdown continues for much longer other vital services could be hurt, Francis said. The USDA food distribution program that helps feed families not served by SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that took the place of food stamps, would probably be the next thing affected.

Tribal governments, their citizens and people across the U.S. who rely on their services are being affected by the shutdown.

On Wednesday the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas announced that it had laid off 22 employees due to the shutdown. Federal funds provide services like law enforcement, healthcare and road maintenance as a result of treaties signed with the U.S., in exchange for ceding thousands of acres of land occupied by the tribes to the federal government.

The Kickapoo Tribe said the shutdown is having a significant impact on its ability to provide basic services to its vulnerable tribal members. Representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been furloughed the tribe said, and it has been given little information on contingency plans.

“Unfortunately, due to lack of access to federal funding at this time, we are providing very limited services to our tribal members and community,” Kickapoo Tribal Chairman Lester Randall said in a release announcing the cuts. “Even when the government shutdown ends, we will not have immediate access to our federal funding. Drawdowns from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies will still need to be processed, which could take weeks.”

Randall said the tribe is being cautious with funding to protect its members as best it can in case of a prolonged shutdown.

In North Dakota, a sparsely populated state that is home to nine different tribes, IHS employs 25 percent of the federal employees in the state and is often the only option rural residents have for medical care, Sioux Falls TV station KSFY reported.

"These folks are going to be working either without pay or they are on furlough, depending on whether or not they have been identified as essential," South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds told the station. "In either case, time is critical in terms of getting this issue resolved. Nobody wins in a government shutdown."

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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