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In a Supreme Court decision on June 18th, justices decided 5-4 in favor of tribes in the Salazarv. Ramah Navajo Chapter case.
The justices determined that the United States government short-changed the Ramah Navajo Chapter and other tribes millions of dollars in public service contracts.
Native tribes were given contracts under the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975. The contracts were to run public services such as police, schools, hospitals, environmental services among others. According to the ruling, the government began to shortchange payments for these services by implementing a payment ‘ceiling’, which capped the amount of money allotted to the tribes for their services, no longer paying for each contract in full.
As a result, tribes were forced to pay contract costs that the government should have been paying. The U.S. Congress has long been aware of the shortfall to tribes, but it has never legislated a comprehensive appropriations remedy. The high court now says that the executive branch must make up the difference.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority in the case, “Consistent with longstanding principles of government contracting law, we hold that the government must pay each tribe’s contract support costs in full.”
On August 1st, Alaska’s Senator Mark Begich, along with Senator Mike Crapo, wrote a letter to President Obama, the letter was also co-signed by Senator Lisa Murkowski, ALaska’s Senior Senator, as well as five others. Co-signing were Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Senator Al Franken (D-MN), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Senator James Risch (R-ID), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The letter requested that the president act on bringing closure to tribes from Alaska and the lower 48 in the wake of the court’s decision.
“The time for litigation is over,” the senators write. “As with other recent settlements of historic claims, settlement judgments will be paid directly from the Treasury through the Judgment Fund. Neither the BIA nor the IHS will likely pay these judgments. There is, accordingly, no reason and no excuse for any further delay in resolving these claims.”
“Tribes and their organizations applaud the Senate’s efforts to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to swiftly implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ramah decision which reversed the federal government’s practice to systematically underfund Tribal health and social service programs,” said Dan Winkelman, VP for Administration & General Counsel, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
“We applaud the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the work of the senators who have and continue to make it clear that contract support cost reimbursement is what permits tribes and tribal organizations, like all government contractors, to adequately perform the essential work that might otherwise be the responsibility of the federal government,” said Andy Teuber, President and Chairman of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “Here in Alaska, because of the historic underfunding of this reimbursement, the need to do more with less has become the culture, and unfortunately, the consequences are illustrated in the historic and mounting challenges which confront our people and communities; that of overcoming health and economic disparities.”
Copies of the letter, which can be read here, were sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; all agencies involved in the contracting dispute.
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