ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Roughly $133 million is expected to be made available to tribes to support Native American and Alaska Native crime victims who advocates say had been largely left out of a federal funding program for decades.
The appropriation for tribes was tucked into the $1.3 trillion federal spending bill approved last week, and comes as federal Native American programs and services overall are seeing a funding boost — including some that a year ago faced the prospect of drastic funding cutbacks initially proposed by the Trump administration.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs budget, for example, will increase to more than $3 billion, up 7.1 percent from fiscal year 2017, according to an analysis from the National Congress of American Indians. The Indian Health Services is receiving $5.5 billion, a 10 percent spending increase over the previous year.
The new money meant to help tribes serve crime victims will come from funds that have long been made available to states and federal agencies under 30-year-old legislation. It directs the Justice Department to use convicted federal offenders’ court fines and penalties to assist crime victims or surviving family members.
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In the past, however, tribes could only seek money for crime victims affected by cases within their jurisdiction by requesting money given to states. Often, the red tape and other factors kept tribes from seeking the money from states, Juana Majel-Dixon said, co-chair of a National Congress of American Indians taskforce on addressing violence against women.
The group noted in its analysis of the spending measure that the funding gap for crime victim services had represented “a longstanding inequity,” especially given the high rate Native Americans and Alaska Natives are victimized by violent crime within the United States. More than half of indigenous women have been victims of domestic or sexual violence, according to federal figures.
Now, 3 percent from the Victims of Crime Act fund administered by an agency within the Justice Department is being set aside in the budget ending in September specifically for tribes, which the group described as an important step.
“The thing we were seeing is that victims had nothing protecting them,” Majel-Dixon said. “There’s nothing protecting them as they go through the process.”
For nearly two decades, she said, she and others have sought to have Congress set aside the money for victim services in Indian Country — as part of a broader effort surrounding strengthening criminal code to protect women in tribal communities. She surmised that the national focus in recent months on sexual assault and misconduct, in part, helped in advocating for the funding this year.